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india to outsource all future oil-spill clean-up operations  

Global firms to clean up future oil spills in India

Press Trust of India

After reviewing the country's preparedness to handle oil spills, the Ministry of Shipping has decided to outsource all future clean-up operations to global agencies with expertise in the area. "We are most likely going to outsource it, as it is not possible for ports to buy all the equipment which runs into several hundred crores. We are planning to authorize the ports to outsource the job of clean up to people who have prior experience in handling such cases," Rakesh Srivastava Joint Secretary Shipping Ministry said.

The ministry came to this conclusion after the government's disastrous experience in combating the spill from a damaged ship, MSC Chitra, at the mouth of Mumbai harbour."We are not equipped to handle an oil spill of even 700 tonnes," said a senior government official involved in the Mumbai clean-up operation."The equipment needed for cleaning up the oil slick is very expensive and its maintenance is very difficult," the official told PTI.

The shipping ministry has created a contingency fund of Rs 17 crore for clean-up operations. The money has been collected by ports, which handle oil imports and exports, by charging 50 paise per tonne from oil passing through these ports."We will prepare an approved list of people or companies which handle oil spills....Technical people from all over the world," Srivastava said. Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrashekhar recently reviewed the ongoing clean up activity for a speedy restoration of sea lanes leading to Mumbai Port.

However, the responsibility of combating small oil spills has been divided between the ports and the Coast Guard. Ports are expected to handle oil spills of less than 700 tonnes in their vicinity. A possibility of a spill exceeding 10,000 tonnes had not even been contemplated till the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico happened, which caught governments off guard, with no clear guidelines on handling oil spills of such a magnitude. The Director General of Shipping S B Agnihotri said that the Coast Guard and Ministry of environment are the primary agencies tasked with combating and containing oil spills. The Coast Guard had a supply of booms, surface skimmers and chemical dispersants but they could be in short supply, he said.

According to reports the oil spill has spread to the Elephanta Caves, and the Alibaug coast in neighbouring Raigad.Maharashtra's Minister for Environment Suresh Shetty said the state will clean-up the waters, and bear the cost. "which will later be recovered from the ships involved."

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