Mumbai: The authorities on Sunday launched efforts on a war footing to combat an unprecedented oil spill in the Arabian Sea, spanning around two miles, from a Panaman ship which crashed into another vessel in Mumbai harbour, an Indian Coast Guard (ICG)officer said.
The oil spilled from Panaman ship MSC Chitra which collided with a St. Kitts-registered vessel, MV Khalijia-III, on Saturday.
In the biggest such operation mounted so far in the Indian waters, the authorities have deployed five ICG ships, a helicopter and a small aircraft for controlling the massive oil spill in the Mumbai harbour, around five km south of the island city, the officer said.
The affected ship, MSC Chitra, was loaded with an estimated 2,500 tonnes of oil at the time of the accident, but officials declined to comment on this.
Due to the impact of the collision, MSC Chitra has dangerously tilted in the sea and rescue groups were seeing containers that it was carrying falling from it at regular intervals.
The containers are floating in the choppy sea in the busy navigation channels that are the entry to and exit from one of the country's oldest and the largest ports - the Mumbai Port - and the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT).
In view of the serious hazard posed by floating containers to vessels navigating in that area, the shipping traffic has been kept on hold for the time being.
Meanwhile, the ICG ships - Sankalp, Amrit Kaur, Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, Kamla Devi and C-145 - have joined the ICG AOPV Sangram which was deployed since Saturday to monitor the oil spill and guide the relief efforts.
A helicopter and a small aircraft have been pressed into service for aerial spraying of dispersants on the thick oil slick through regular sorties.
So far, they have sprayed nearly 150 litres of dispersant, the officer said.
The ICG's smaller vessels are now engaged in churning down the oil sheen for weathering or emulsification, but the discharge from the grounded ship continued, thwarting the efforts by different agencies.
The officer said that the authorities are making the best efforts to mitigate and minimise the damage to the sea due to the oil spill.
'Containment and recovery of spilled oil in present position is not feasible because of the rocky surface and the prevailing weather and tidal conditions,' the officer explained.
Though officials declined to hazard a guess on the time-frame, it is expected that the operation may go on for over a week.
The ICG has also requisitioned additional pollution check assistance from Goa, the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation and other agencies.
The state government, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board and the Maharashtra Maritime Board are also in a state of high alert to mobilize resources for a shore clean-up if required, according to the officer.
Besides, the Bombay Natural History Society has been approached to mobilize and keep volunteers on standby for shore cleanup operations.
In the meantime, the maritime authorities have requested the state government to restrict all fishing activities off Mumbai till the oil effects are controlled and minimized.
The shipping agency of MSC Chitra has engaged Smit Salvage of Singapore to help out with the salvage operations of the fully loaded cargo ship.
The MSC Chitra collided with an incoming vessel, MV Khalijia-III - both more than 200 metres long - Saturday around 9.45 a.m. near the JNPT, creating the emergency situation.
Shortly after the accident, the ICG rescued 33 crew members and evacuate them to safety, even as the MSC Chitra ran aground near the Prong Reef Lighthouse.
The Directorate General of Shipping and the port authorities have already instituted separate inquiries into the accident, which occurred due to navigational errors, as per preliminary reports, said officials.