A chemical tanker bearing almost 3,000 tonnes of flammable liquid – consisting primarily of the highly hazardous naphtha – has been in limbo off Kochi’s coast for almost six months now. It is a “potential disaster waiting to happen”, cautioned officer-in-charge of Kochi’s Coast Guard Training Centre Deputy Inspector General (DIG) K.R. Deepak Kumar, in a seminar on responses to marine pollution organised by the Commander Coast Guard (Kerala and Mahe) on Willingdon Island in Kochi.
The now-unmanned vessel, managed by Elektrans Shipping and owned by Arya Ship Charterers Private Limited, is anchored around 12.2 nautical miles off Kochi’s coast, and about 370 metres outside territorial waters.
“The vessel’s proximity to the shipping lane for the Kochi port and the coastal populace, coupled with the likelihood of explosion due to leakage of volatile and highly inflammable cargo is a potential disaster waiting to happen,” said the Coast Guard official in his presentation on the National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan (NOS-DCP), which India promulgated in 1996 and outlines the standard operating procedures and responsibilities of every local, regional and national stakeholder in the event of an oil spill. The Indian Coast Guard has been designated as the central coordinating agency to combat oil pollution in India’s marine zones and implement the NOS-DCP.
The vessel continued to remain in position despite all efforts made by the Indian Coast Guard to highlight the issue at all possible levels, said Mr. Kumar. It pointed to a lacuna in the system because the NOS-DCP was only a contingency plan and needed to be made legislation so that it could be enforced, he added.
Apart from specifying the roles of oil tankers and oil handling agencies, port authorities and State administration when an oil spill occurs, the NOS-DCP also lists three tiers of response to oil spills. There is also an online spill advisory set up which can predict the trajectory of pollution for up to 90 hours.
The day-long seminar, inaugurated by P.H. Kurian, Additional Chief Secretary (Revenue, Environment and Disaster Management) to the government of Kerala, aimed to highlight the need for coordinated efforts in maritime pollution response and increase awareness among stakeholders. During the event, Coast Guard officials also suggested that local stakeholders submit their contingency plans in the event of an oil spill. Environment impact assessments and the sensitivity of the coasts should also be incorporated into this, they added. “We are hoping to have a contingency plan that applies to the entire coast of Kerala,” said K. Sajeevan, Chairman of the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB). “We have prepared the terms of reference and discussions are ongoing.”
Several stakeholders including government departments, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited, KITCO and Central Institute of Fisheries Technology attended the seminar.