Saturday, 4 February 2017

It is not the time to connect the dots of Chennai oil spill

In the midst of the swelling conspiracy theories regarding the recent collision between two ships M T BW Maple and M T Dawn in the verge of January this year, I am writing this.

First of all, I should say that the government (both the Centre and the State) should think about themselves that the people have lost hope on them. More than that, the hope has turned out to be suspicion. Whatever that happens in the territory of Tamil Nadu has been leading even a common man waiting in a random traffic signal or walking in a crowd to think of a conspiracy theory behind it. This is a state to be felt ashamed for both the governments. It is still not revealed whether the marine accident that occurred last week was a planned one or really an accident, but the number of conspiracy theories has been increasing for every hour followed by every announcement made by the governments.

Even today, when Pon Radhakrishnan, Union Minister of State for Shipping told reporters, "Whatever happens in the premises of the port has to be taken care by the KPL (Kamarajar Port Limited) officials and similarly whatever happens in the coast or the shore is the responsibility of the State government. Central government is responsible only for those incidents taking place inside the sea", it raises some serious doubts on the government machinery. Be it the actual protocol and let the shores fall under the jurisdiction of the State government, but is this the time to point out the latter or to redirect the blame? Is this the way for a Central Minister to address a problem.

BW Maple seen in photo, Source: Times of India

Let this be apart, coming into the core of the issue. With respect to the doubts raised by many netizens in their conspiracy theories, it is a serious topic to debate.

A marine accident, that too near the port between two ships is a rare instance and this is said to be the first time in Ennore port (Well, I'm not sure, fact harvested from the internet). And in another report, it was said that the KPL authorities took a three day time to react to the demands of the collided vessel before which several thousands of litres of oil (still not calculated by officials) drained in to the Bay of Bengal. However, the officials could recover about 32,000 litres (estimate said by Pon Radhakrishnan) of bunker oil that was still left inside the ship and was safely transported to the shore three days after the accident. The spilled oil in the shoreline is being cleared by the officials of KPL, State government and many youth volunteers from colleges and non-profit organisations.

Personnel of KPL clearing oil sludge near Ennore port, Source: India Today

Most of the conspiracy theories claim that the collision was a pre planned one by the governments to just shake the livelihood of the fishing hamlets adjacent to Marina, Ennore and the rest of North Chennai, who extended their hands to support the final phases of the pro-Jallikattu protests (also known as Thai Ezhuchi referred by netizens). Earlier, there were also speculations that the police atrocity took place in the region too was a point of revenge taken by the government and this oil spill is a follow up to that.

If this is true, we have to undertake a short analysis on the issue. The ship that was carrying the bunker oil was of Indian origin belonging to Kanchipuram district. While the other one that collided with this was carrying LPG and was of Isle of Man (an island in British Isles) origin. So, taking the origin of both these vessels into consideration it is not possible to jump into a conclusion directly. As one of the ships is from an origin in a distant geography, it could not be estimated as such. But, some of the conspiracy theories that claim this accident to have Illuminati in the background justify even that scenario.

On the other hand, the delay made  by the port authorities to react to the issue puts me in confusion. Why should they drag their feet on this serious wreck that could lead to a long time lurch? So, there could be lobbying in the sidelines of the accident. However due to this delay, the problem actually was for the fauna of the aquatic ecosystem that had killed a total of 21 Olive Ridleys (as on February 2, 2017), over 500 different kinds of marine reptiles and thousands of small fishes that could survive only in the shores.

An Olive Ridley washed ashore dead after oil spill in Chennai shoreline, Source: The Hindu

There were also allegations on no case being filed against the authorities of both the ships. But, the actual problem persisting in the issues was, 'Who should file?'. However, the government came into a conclusion and finally the KPL authorities lodged a complaint against the ships in Minjur police station of Tiruvallur district. Apparently a case was booked on both the ships under as many as six sections of IPC that include, rash navigation of vessel (IPC 280), negligent conduct with respect to combustible materials (IPC 285), act endangering life or personal safety of others (IPC 336), voluntary causing hurt (IPC 338), mischief causing damage (IPC 427) and mischief causing injury / damage to public road, bridge, river or channel (IPC 431).

Similarly, KPL has also been conducting enquiries on the accident by forming a team with senior officials. They have also detained both the ships and their captains who were also summoned by the court. So, we have to wait until anything is revealed before the court or reported by the KPL's enquiry committee. It is not possible to connect the dots in an empty paper where we cannot identify the dots at all. Let us wait for some inference.

- Santhosh Mathevan
Chennai, February 4, 2017.

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