28 June 2011

Is Wisdom spewing oil into the Arabian Sea?

The polluted beach has become increasingly hazardous for visitors; onlookers noticed a kilometer-long oil slick near the cargo ship yesterday

The stately silhouette of the stranded cargo ship MV Wisdom was, till a few days ago, the cynosure of all eyes on the Juhu beach.

But the prolonged presence of the vessel has quickly turned the entire region into an eyesore, choking the waters with plastic, and roads with traffic.

The ship is possibly plunging the surrounding waters into an ecological disaster. Traces of oil were found in its vicinity yesterday, compelling the police cordon off the stretch. A kilometer-long oil slick could be seen lining the coast, possibly caused by seepage of what appeared to be the heavy fuel used to propel ships.

Juhu residents, however, claim that this is a regular phenomenon in monsoons. Experts however, have scoffed at the residents' naivete.

"Any vessel invariably contains substantial quantities of sludge or residual oil, which has to be drained out before the vessel is dismantled for scrapping. Otherwise, it could pose a threat to the environment," said marine engineer Mehernosh Shroff.

Scientist-in-charge Dr Shankar Gajbiye at the National Institute of Oceanography said, "I haven't received any information on the oil slick.

If the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board informs us, we will deploy a team for inspection." He pointed out the necessity to distinguish between a tar ball, oil or oil residue, saying, "If lumps are seen in the slick, then the source needs to be detected immediately."

The State Secretary of Environment Valsa Nair Singh, said, "The vessel was carrying four tonnes of oil. Local MPCB field staff members inspected the ship, but detected no traces of oil or leakage. Tomorrow onwards, we will be collecting water samples twice daily."

Director of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) Dr Asad Rahmani said that the appearance of an oil slick was an alarming phenomenon. "The presence of oil severely affects marine ecology.

What is particularly worrisome is the fact that this is the breeding period of fishes."

The heaps of waste left behind by apathetic visitors may be the cause behind the tragic death of 15-year-old Vinod Gone, who was pulled in by the currents when he swam in too deep. "Visitors litter the beach," complained Harish Tiwari, a senior Life Guard.

When Gone's body was recovered, it was completely wrapped in waste and polythene bags.

"Even seasoned life guards are cautious when entering the waters. Plastic may suffocate or immobilise someone who is pulled underwater by currents. Moreover, the chemicals in the water hampers visibility," said Tiwari.

Lifeguard Bunty Rao, who was also part of Gone's retrieval operation, confirmed that it had taken the team a long time to free the body from the plastic it was wrapped in.

Source: Mid Day. By: Nimesh Dave, Rinkita Gurav and Shailesh Bhatia. 28 June 2011

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