22 August 2011

Mumbai’s Coastal Ecology Faces Oil Spill Disaster Like Gujarat’s Alang Beach:

Press Note: 

The leakage of oil from Panama flagged ship MV Rak once again reveals that repeated reminders of Indian Coast Guard (ICG) to the Inter-ministerial Committees did not have any effect on Ministry of Shipping and Ministry of Home Affairs that remains quite weak in regulating transboundary movement of ships in Indian waters. The responsibility of Coast Guard lies beyond port limits but Director-General, ICG has the overall responsibility for appropriate response to oil spill incidents. This has created a situation where Government of India remains unprepared to deal with oil pollution.

The ship owner, of MV Rak, the ship manager and the local ship agent have been issued notices under sections 356 J & K of Merchant Shipping Act, 1958 that gives the “Power to give notice to owner, etc of polluting ships” and “Power to take measures for preventing or containing oil pollution” respectively. The Directorate General of Shipping is making efforts to contact the owner and insurer of the ship.

ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), an applicant in the hazardous wastes case in the Supreme Court has been demanding that ships should not be allowed in Indian waters without the name of Port of Registry, Name and address of ship owner, IMO registered owner identification number and IMO company identification Number unless this is done no seller will be traceable. (Refer to Appendix 4 of Hongkong Convention, page no. 39).TWA has written to Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), Group of Ministers (GoM) to consider measures that can be taken by the Government to tackle corruption and the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture in this regard.

The Director-General, ICG is the chairman of the National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan (NOS-DCP) which was promulgated in the year 1996 and approved by the Committee of Secretaries to Government of India designating Coast Guard as the Central Coordination Authority. The NOSDCP was promulgated to all agencies after consent of related ministries during1996. It was updated in 2008. It is reliably learnt that ICG does not have the capability to detect, monitor and neutralise HNS type of marine pollution. While coastal security is duty of the Indian Navy, marine pollution is ICG’s responsibility. National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan was intended to delineate entire national preparedness and response system including both public and private resources for responding to oil spill emergency and provide the basic frame work and guidelines for a national response to oil spills at sea.

After the promulgation of NOS-DCP, ICG responded to 68 oil spill incidents in Indian waters and claimed recovery charges worth Rs.8.13 Crores towards cleanup cost till 2008.

Indian Coast Guard Act of 1978, and the Merchant Shipping Act of 1958 (amended in 1990 for oil pollution, and later amended in 2003 for Hazardous & Noxious Substances [HNS] pollution), the Indian Coast Guard mandated as the focal point for countering marine pollution regulate oil spill incidents.

It is relevant to note that the Sixteenth National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan (NOS-DCP) and Preparedness meeting was held at Hotel Presidency, Kochi on 19 Apr 2011. Vice Admiral Anil Chopra AVSM, Director General Indian Coast Guard who chaired the meeting recalled the “oil response operations undertaken to MV MSC Chitra oil spill incident …in the cleanup operations to bring back the Coastline of Maharashtra close to the pre spill state. The Chairman NOSDCP also highlighted on the oil spill incidents that occurred in Indian water since the last NOSDCP, such as, oil spill from MV Tiger spring at Kolkata, the ONGC pipeline leakage, the minor spill by MV Ratna Urvi at Haldia and the oil spill from MV Mirach which sank off Kanyakumari in April 2011.” These incidents reveal that unless Zero Tolerance Policy is adopted against irresponsible and dubious ships our coastal ecology will continue to face irreparable assaults.

Oil spill is covered under Hazardous & Noxious Substances (HNS) Protocol of 2010 to the International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea, 1996. It was adopted on April 30, 2010. India is yet to ratify the Protocol. HNS are defined by reference to lists of substances included in various IMO Conventions and Codes. These include oils; other liquid substances defined as noxious or dangerous; liquefied gases; liquid substances with a flashpoint not exceeding 60°C; dangerous, hazardous and harmful materials and substances carried in packaged form; and solid bulk materials defined as possessing chemical hazards. The Convention also covers residues left by the previous carriage of HNS, other than those carried in packaged form.

Under the 2010 Protocol, if damage is caused by bulk HNS, compensation would first be sought from the shipowner, up to a maximum limit of 100 million Special Drawing Rights (SDR). 1 SDR is an equivalent of Rs 71.417900 as of August 5, 2011. Where damage is caused by packaged HNS, or by both bulk HNS and packaged HNS, the maximum liability for the shipowner is 115 million SDR. Once this limit is reached, compensation would be paid from a second tier, the HNS Fund, up to a maximum of 250 million SDR (including compensation paid under the first tier). According to IMO norms, Marine pollution due to oil spills are categorised as follows:Tier 1: Below 700 tonnes of oil, Tier 2: Between 700 to 10,000 tonnes and Tier 3: 10,000 to 100,000 tonnes. India does not have the capacity to counter this spills over 100,000 tonnes. Once the extent of oil spill is determined due MV Rak, it would be clear as to what Tier it belongs to. NOS-DCP requires amendment to include HNS protocol of the IMO.

There is a compelling logic for Ministry of Shipping to legislate that all ships visiting Indian ports must have a comprehensive oil-cum-HNS pollution insurance with a reputed company so that clean-up operations are not paid for by the Indian taxpayer and ship owners who commit environmental crimes are made liable. India has a coastline of 7500 km. It has 11 major, 20 intermediate and 144 minor ports. Replies given by Shipping Minister in the Parliament has revealed that most of our ports are vulnerable to assaults by vested interests and conniving ship owning companies who indulge in dubious activities to escape liability. Indian response to oil spills and the US response to oil spill in Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010 present a contrast.

Earlier, Ministry of Defence was the nodal agency for coordination in the matter of Oil Spill, now the Ministry of Home Affairs is the nodal agency. Repeated failure to detect and obviate ship related accidents and entry of obsolete ships on fake documents in Indian waters provides a rationale for the Ministry of Defence to be reassigned the responsibility.

Source: IMO Watch. By Gopal Krishna. 7 August 2011 

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