Chennai oil spill: Why is nobody asking how did it happen?

After six days of waiting, the oil spill caused by the collision of two ships — one oil and the other an LPG tanker — near the Kamarajar Port in Chennai’s Ennore has found a space in the national discourse.

While most of us journalists in the state have been talking about how we have been cursed to spend our working hours off the coast of Bay of Bengal since December 6, 2016 (first after the demise of former CM J Jayalalithaa and then the pro-Jallikattu protests), this time around there is no certainty as to when can we end our beach hopping from Ennore to Marina to Besant Nagar to Tiruvanmiyur beach and back to the starting point.

January 28, when the news of the collision spread, Kamarajar Port was quick in sending out a statement that read, no damage to the environment like oil pollution.

When large patches of oil started to hit the rocky shores close to Bharathiyar Nagar (approximately 13 km from the Kamarajar Port by road) and the cleaning process started, the intensity of the disaster became apparent. Lack of proper action plan by the government was evident when fishermen and volunteers in the nearby areas started helping the coast guards in the manual cleaning process.

Initially, the Kamarajar Port sent out a statement claiming no damage and later Union minister Radhakrishnan repeated the same.

On Tuesday (January 31), Tamil Nadu fisheries minister D Jayakumar had estimated the oil spill to be around 1 tonne. But by February 2, the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) said that 40 tonne of oil sludge and 27 tonne of oil mixture and water have been removed.

As of today, the real figure of the leak has not been announced by the government. Now it’s estimated that around 70 tonne of oil have been spilled.

So, how did the accident happen?

While we have been talking about the spill and the impact it has on the ecosystem and livelihood of the fishing community, one question that not many seem to be asking is how did it happen? According to rules, only one ship can enter or exit the port at one point in time. Then how did both the ships get a green signal to move? Or was one of the ships violating instructions?

When will the investigation conclude and will the affected be compensated? All these remain unanswered. After the 2015 floods in Chennai, though an investigation was ordered to look into encroachments, there has still been no action. Will Ennore meet the same fate?

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