Oil spill getting larger
A tanker carrying 3.58 lakh litres of furnace oil sank in a Sundarbans river near Mongla early yesterday, spilling oil over a vast area of the world's largest mangrove forest.
If the authorities fail to contain the spill that continued till last night, it might deal a serious blow to the biodiversity of the forest, say experts.
The exact extent of the spill could not yet be determined.
Forest officials, however, said oil had already spread over a 20-kilometre stretch, up to the Pasur river on one side, from Mrigamari in the Shela river where the tanker, Southern Star-7, went down around 5:00am.
The affected areas include Joymonir Ghol, Andharmanik and Nandobala.
The forest department, which lacks logistics to deal with such a situation, could do nothing to stop oil from spreading through the river and canal networks of the mangrove forest.
“Mrigamari is a sanctuary for dolphins. It is tough to determine what kind of disaster the accident would bring to the vulnerable Sundarbans,” said Amir Hossain Chowdhury, divisional forest officer of Sundarbans (East).
It would leave a severe impact on the aquatic animals and fishes of the Sundarbans, he said.
Dr Dilip Kumar Dutta, professor of environmental science at Khulna University, said spill of such a huge quantity of oil would take a heavy toll on the mangrove forest and its wildlife.
During high tide, water from the Bay of Bengal would carry oil to the forest floor, and it would hamper the breathing process of mangrove plants.
Neither the forest department nor the Mongla Port Authority has the capacity to remove the oil from water, he said.
If the oil is not removed, it would take a long time to leach out naturally since there is not much pressure of water from the upstream which could flush out oil to the Bay.
Of the eight crew of Southern Star-7, master Mokhlesur Rahman remained missing while seven swam ashore.
The tanker went down after a cargo vessel hit it from behind.
A team of Coast Guard and forest officials went to the spot to search for the missing man, said Mehedi Masud, commanding officer of the Coast Guard in Mongla.
He said Messrs Harun and Company, which owns the tanker, already hired a shipping company to launch an operation this morning to salvage the sunken vessel and stop the oil spill.
The tanker, which was carrying oil to Gopalganj from Padma Oil Depot in Khulna, anchored at Joymonir Ghol in the Sundarbans due to dense fog on Monday night, Md Giasuddin, managing director of Messrs Harun and Company, told The Daily Star.
Fearing such accidents, environmentalists have been demanding that the government must ensure no vessels ply through the Sundarbans.
Though it is illegal for commercial vessels to ply though protected forests, hundreds of vessels have been using the Shela river as an alternative route for the last few years since the Mongla-Ghasiakhali channel lost navigability.