08 May 2017

Oil at Sea: Dangers of shipbreaking fading in

Dumping oil in the sea is prohibited as per the environmental act, but many of the shipbreaking yards in Sitakunda upazila of Chittagong do not follow the rule while dismantling ships.

As a result, the brunt oil, which is being thrown into the Bay of Bengal from the dismantled ships, is posing a serious threat to the environment.

According to sources, more than a hundred shipbreaking yards have mushroomed in the upazila over the last 20 years. Of them, around 50 to 60 yards are active at present.

Azhar-ul-Islam, inspector of the Department of Environment (DoE), Chittagong, said according to the oil management guideline of the environmental act, the authorities of the shipbreaking yards will have to remove the oil from the dismantled ships in a way that it does not harm the environment.

“Nevertheless it is a reality that in many yards oil is being thrown into the water during dismantling the ships or while being poured into barrels before delivering them to other ships,” he said.

“I am the lone inspector for the whole district, so it is not possible for me to visit all the yards regularly. Besides, there is a shortage of manpower in DoE,” he further said.

Recently, this correspondent managed to collect some photographs taken at a yard in Sonaichhari union of the upazila. In the photographs it was seen that oil dumped from ships was floating on the water, and at some spots, oil was found on the sand near the water.

Some of the workers seeking anonymity at the shipbreaking yards admitted that they throw oil in the water regularly.

Contacted, President of Bangladesh Ship Breakers' Association Abu Taher said, “In most of the yards oil is delivered through lighter vessels from one ship to another, and there is no question of dumping oil into the sea or at yards as this work is done very carefully.”

When this correspondent told him that he had seen oil floating on the water and had some photographs of oil spillage at a yard, Taher said it could be a “rare incident".

“Oil is stored in barrels or drums in few yards and leakage of oil might have happened during the process,” he said, adding, “We are trying to bring all the yards under the modern system of oil management.”

Contacted, Masud Karim, director of DoE, Chittagong, said they did not get any complaint regarding oil dumping into water at the shipbreaking yards.

“When we give clearance to any shipbreaking yard, it is clearly mentioned in the conditions that the yards must dispose oil without harming the environment.”

“There is no scope for dumping oil in yards during dismantling of ships,” he said, adding, “We will investigate the matter.”

If any shipbreaking yard disposes oil violating the environmental law, they will be fined, said DoE Inspector Azhar, adding, the amount of fine will depend on the extent of damage.

It will not be less than Tk 5 lakh, he further said.

DoE can also file a case against the yard responsible, and if the offence is proved in court, the yard owner may be sentenced to the highest 10 years' imprisonment, he said.

The environment clearance of the yard may also be cancelled, he added.

Contacted, Dr Hussain Jamal, a professor of the Institute of Marine Sciences and Fisheries of Chittagong University, said if oil is being dumped in the sea, it creates a longtime impact on the biodiversity as the degradation process of oil is very slow.

A large portion of oil remains in the water for long and affects the biodiversity, he said.

It has a bad impact not only on phytoplankton and zooplankton but also on birds hovering over the sea to catch fish, he said, adding, continuous dumping of small quantities of oil slowly add up to a large amount and block the sunlight from entering into the sea water.

Oil also reduces the dissolved oxygen in water and ultimately fisheries get affected, he said.

In a recent study by the Institute of Marine Sciences and Fisheries of CU, some findings suggested that biodiversity of Sitakunda is poorer than that of other areas, Dr. Hussain added.

Source: the daily star. 07 May 2017

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