Saleem Samad with Shah Alam Tuku from Bagherhat
Bangladesh authorities are fighting an uphill battle to contain the spread of the oil spill that threatens environmental disaster in the Sundarban, the world's largest mangrove forest and home to rare Bengal tigers and river dolphins.
Environmental watchdogs monitoring satellite photos feared that the oil slick has already spread over an 80-kilometre (50 mile) area of one of the three sanctuaries in the sensitive mangrove ecosystem.
Authorities have announced on public address system (load-speakers) to encourage the forest people, families of fisherman and boatman in the hamlets of Chandpai Sanctuary in Sundarbans to collect the oil from the surface of the rivers and channels.
The civil administration believes that in absence of knowledge and technology of oil slick cleanup, the mobilisation of the forest people to skim the surface would significantly remove the oil slick from further ecological damages.
Hundreds of residents, young and old from Friday morning have gathered along the riverside to collect the oil.
The enthusiastic collectors are selling the salvaged oil at Tk 30 per litre to state-owned Padma Oils, both Bagherhat district administration and forest officials have confirmed.
Padma Oil's contractor Rafiqul Islam Babul said they had acquired several thousand litres of oil. Earlier in the morning, he said that his staff members have collected 3,400 litres of oil in the first five hours in a buy-back campaign.
To stop the oil slick from spreading further upstream or downstream during the twice daily tide, the Forest Department and Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) has put up barricades with nets on both ends of the Shela River.
Thousands of litres of oil have spilled into the fragile mangrove forest, home to rare Irrawaddy and Ganges dolphins, since a tanker collided with another vessel in dense fog on Tuesday.
Unsuspecting tigers will swim these channels, as will monitor lizards. The fish, migrating up to spawn, will not know what to make of the black slicks. Crabs will turn a viscous black from a fresh bright pink.
Kingfishers diving for their lunch (crabs, shrimp, fish) will come up with feathers coated with the alien goo. Traditional fishermen, dependent on this ecosystem and already at the bottom rung of the economic ladder, will have even lesser to take home, if anything at all.
Rescue vessels have salvaged the tanker, which was carrying an estimated 357,000 litres (77,000 gallons) of oil when it sank.
Rubayat Mansur, Bangladesh head of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, said oil dispersants were "not appropriate for the mangrove ecosystem" and urged local villagers to help collect the oil from nets that have been placed in the river to contain its spread.
Meanwhile ships from Bangladesh Navy, BIWTA and Chittagong Port have also joined the cleanup operation.
Salvage vessel Kandari-10 which has set sail from Chittagong is yet to join the cleanup operation as the Department of Environment (DoE) has not issued no-objection certificate.
Environmentalists expressed their concern of the use of oil-spill dispersants could instead harm the delicate ecology of the Sundarban.
Officials earlier thought that the dispersants could be used to facilitate intake of oxygen by the marine lives suffocating and dying in the oil slick disaster region, our Bagerhat correspondent said quoting Dr Shamsuddoha Khandaker, chairman of BIWTA.
It seems that the authorities stepped back on a decision to use oil spill dispersant to contain the damage, fearing of further escalating the fragile ecology of the world's heritage.
But Amir Hosain, Chief Forest Officer of the Sundarban, admitted authorities were in the dark about what to do for the best.
But officials said the damage had already been done as the slick had spread to a second river and a network of canals in the Sundarban, the world's largest mangrove forest, which straddles India and Bangladesh.