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Port trust called in for cargo clean-up

Calcutta, May 22: Coast guard aircraft have spotted the beginnings of a minor diesel leak in the sinking Indonesian vessel Sigitika Biru.

The coast guard commandant at Haldia today approached the Calcutta Port Trust to help empty the ship of its potentially hazardous cargo of 6,000 tonnes of soda ash and 3,500 litres of diesel in its metal storage tanks.

At a news conference here today, Commandant R.K. Wadhwa said “patches of oil” detected yesterday and today had been “taken care of”.

“The ship is lying on a sandbank and it toppled on its starboard (right) side last morning, as reported by the pilots of the Dornier aircraft, which dropped oil-spill dispersal chemicals from air,” he said.

Wadhwa added that he had written to the port trust to hunt for potential salvagers to help cut down on the pollution. “According to the National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan, the port authorities have to take the initiative in apprehending the danger and we are supposed to advise and guide them.”

The coast guard’s vessel, Sarang, has been parked in the vicinity of the grounded ship so that its helicopter can drop chemicals in the water to neutralise the alkaline effect of the soda ash, or sodium carbonate, if it spills out.

“I have spoken to experts and they have said that as the soda ash is stored in plastic bags, even if they are damaged, the leakage will be slow and the tide will dilute and disperse the chemical,” Wadhwa said.

There was no fear of the ship drifting away as it was trapped in sand, he said. The landmass nearest to the Sigitika Biru is 55 km away.

The state pollution control board today asked the coast guard and the port trust to jointly clear any likely environmental pollution from the ship.

“The board will monitor the water quality, both upstream and downstream from the wreck. We have asked both the agencies to tell us what action has been taken so far,” said Biswajit Mukherjee, the board’s senior law officer.

According to Wadhwa, the Indonesian owners had disowned the ship and terminated their Indian agent’s contract.

Three companies, Wadhwa said, had approached him for details of a likely clean-up operation. “One of them is confident to be able to work in the area where water almost recedes during low tide and becomes choppy when it comes in. But it all depends on how the economics of the operation works out.”

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