Oil Spills Call for Legal, Technical Fix
The response to the oil spill off the Chennai coast on January 28 when two ships, MT BW Maple and MT Dawn Kanchipuram, collided has exposed the lack of preparedness and accountability on the part of Indian agencies. The slow and ineffective response also reveals a lack of appreciation of the environmental and public health fallout of accidents/incidents of this nature and of organisational preparedness.
The irony is that since the mid-1990s, India has a National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan. The plan is clear in setting out the responsibilities of the Coast Guard, state and central governments and local authorities. The Coast Guard is the nodal agency for the security of territorial waters and the exclusive economic zone, including of the coastal environment. It not enough to have a contingency plan, the Coast Guard needs to have the competence to respond to devastating emergencies such as oil spills. The focus needs to be on monitoring movement, augmenting information collection, proper training and ensuring that the Coast Guard is well-equipped to handle such situations. To this end, the Coast Guard must be supported through appropriate statutory backing and proper funding. Parliament must pass the amendments to the Merchant Shipping Act to ensure compliance to the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage 2001. This will ease the difficulty in obtaining compensation for pollution caused by bunker oil spill or leakage from ships other than tankers. It will improve recovery of costs on clean-up operation in the eventuality of oil spills.
India’s coast will carry rising volumes of trade. Greater economic activity in the coastal areas will require better protection, both of coastal ecosystems and the people who live there.