Oil Spill: Khalija III flouted navigation rules, claim MSC Chitra officials

     Officials of the MSC Chitra said that bulk-carrier MV Khalija III had flouted navigation rules that led to the collision between the two vessels off Mumbai's port, resulting in the oil spill. "From the data, it is apparent that MSC Chitra was properly proceeding outbound, within the main navigation channel. Khalija III left its anchorage position and crossed the channel ahead of the MSC Chitra at a distance of about 1.7 nautical miles. MSC Chitra maintained her outbound course along the channel," said Captain N. Malhotra, spokesperson of the MSC Chitra. "Khalija III, after crossing the channel, turned sharply to port and re-entered the channel. This was less than two minutes to collision. On re-entering, Khalija III continued to port contrary to rules of navigation and its bow, the front section of the ship, struck MSC Chitra ahead of the mid-ship area," he added. Malhotra added that the Vessel Traffic Management System (VTMS), a marine traffic monitoring system set up by the Mumbai Port Trust, also failed to alert the ships on time. The two Panamanian ships, MSC Chitra and MV Khalija III, collided five nautical miles off Mumbai early morning on August 7. All crewmembers were rescued. But as a result of the oil spill from the containers that fell into the shipping channels, the operations at the Mumbai port and its neighbouring Jawaharlal Nehru Port have been closed. Malhotra said that the clean-up operations are underway and the remaining containers will be rescued once the vessel is stabilized. "The salvage and vessel managers are coordinating with the authority in all respects on the salvage operations. ITOPF (International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation), who are international marine pollution experts, have been appointed to advise and assist in containment and clean-up operations with the assistance of coast guards and local authorities," he said. The MSC Chitra, which was carrying a cargo of diesel and lubricant oil, triggered an oil slick that has spread to a distance of two nautical miles from the ship. The vessel was carrying 2,662 tonnes of heavy oil in its various tanks and 245 tonnes of diesel oil. Meanwhile, the oil spill has also contaminated the seawater, badly affecting the fish business. Members of the Akhil Maharashtra Machhimar Kruti Samiti (AMMKS - an organisation of Maharashtra fishermen), on Friday organized a press conference to clarify that the fish stock is safe for consumption. Damodar Tandel, leader of the organization, however, said that the oil spill would hamper the future business. "Because of the oil spill all the fishes have died in there during their breeding season. Its ill effects will be felt even next year because oil is settled even below the mangrove tree so no fish will come for breeding here. It will take another two-three years to clear; till then, the life of fishermen is completely ruined," Tandel said. This is the breeding season for marine animals, and the spill may harm not only their breeding cycle, but also the entire marine ecosystem, including the mangroves if the oil causes further contamination in the water, which would then affect the livelihood of the coastal populace.

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