16 Dec 2014 – 10:10 by OOSKAnews Correspondent
Bangladesh this week launched a clean-up of the country’s Sundarbans Delta, in the wake of an extensive oil spill.
The spill, which happened early on December 9th, occurred after a tanker believed to be carrying 350,000 liters of oil collided with another vessel on the Shela River. The furnace oil tanker sank into the river.
Authorities have filed a lawsuit against the owners of both ships.
The oil has since spread over 350 square kilometers near the border with India; New Delhi has said it is on high alert to deal with any flow of oil into the area.
The Sundarbans region includes the world’s largest mangrove reserve. The oil spill also threatens the ecology of the Shela River, particularly a sanctuary for the rare Irrawaddy river dolphins.
In the aftermath of the spill, the Bangladeshi Navy immediately sent four ships to address the situation. The country’s forestry department said nearly 100 boats have been engaged in collecting furnace oil from the river water.
About 300 people, mostly local residents and forestry staff, are using sponges to remove the oil. It is believed that 40,200 liters have been removed so far.
“The oil collection will continue until further notice,” a forestry official was quoted as saying.
As an extra incentive, the Bangladesh Petrol Corporation has offered to pay $0.39 USD for every liter of oil recovered.
A chemical dispersant vessel has also been sent to the spill site, but it has not yet released any chemicals, since the Environment Ministry wants to study the effects of the chemicals on the local fauna first.
Director-General of Environment Department Mohammad Shahjahan told local media that a sample of the chemicals had been sent out for testing to the department’s facilities and to the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
“But we are yet to get their reports and suggestions. So until now we cannot give permission for its use in the Sundarbans,” he said.
United Nations Development Program Country Director for Bangladesh Pauline Tamesis said the accident showed the need to ban commercial shipping through this sensitive region.
“Global experience shows that this kind of incident has long-term environmental consequences,” Indian media quoted Tamesis as saying.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests has said that the route will be closed until further notice, and Deputy Minister Abdullah Al Islam Jakob said the ministry has recommended closing it permanently.