CHENNAI: Nine months after the oil devastated the Chennai coast, fishermen living in the area claim that they have not received the promised compensation.
On 28 January 2017, two ships – M T Maple and Dawn Kanchipuram – collided off the Kamarajar Port in Ennore spilling 251 tonnes of spirit oil into the sea. The Ennore Oil Spill, as it has come to be known, impacted the livelihood of over a lakh fisherman living on the coast of Chennai, Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts.
The spill spread south and even blackened the beaches from the Marina to Kovalam.
Nine months on, the coastline at Ennore has been cleaned of oil, thanks to the work of National Green Tribune (NGT), coastguards and independent volunteers. Watch:
“We couldn’t fish at all for a month after the accident,” says Karapaga Arasu, a fisherman who lives in the Nochikuppam Colony near Marina Beach. “Even after a month, no one would buy our fish as people feared that it was toxic from the oil. We suffered heavy losses for at least three months after the spill.”
“First it was demonetization, then cyclone Vardah and then the Ennore oil spill. We basically had no income for almost six months at a stretch. This is the worst year for fishermen in a long time.”
-Nilesh, a fisherman from Nochikuppam Colony
Another fisherman, Nilesh says “first it was demonetization, then cyclone Vardah and then the Ennore oil spill. We basically had no income for almost six months at a stretch. This is the worst year for fishermen in a long time.”
Some fishermen claim to have incurred losses up to Rs.40,000 due to the oil spill.
K Bharati, who is also a member of South Indian Fisherman Welfare Association, says that their organisation filed a petition with the government, asking for a preliminary compensation of Rs.17000 each, for 1.2 lakh odd fishermen affected by the spill. This was to be paid by the insurance company of the ships involved.
“In February, the Chief Minister (Edapadi Palaniswami) had announced an interim relief fund of Rs 15 crore. All the families here were promised Rs.5000, but none of us received it. Things would have been different if Amma (late Chief Minister J Jayalalitha) were still here.”
On November 9, the Southern bench of National Green Tribune (NGT) directed the counsel of Dawn Kanchipuram and M T Maple to file replies to Director-General of Shipping’s report, which found both the ships guilty of breaking basic seamanship rules, leading to the collision. The State claimed a compensation of Rs.350 crore from the insurance companies of the ships, to pay the affected fishermen and to reimburse the expenses for the cleanup activities undertaken by government. The hearing of the case has been posted for December 14.
“Ennore is already reeling due to excessive industrial activity resulting in fly-ash and toxic chemicals being dumped into the water. The oil spill has made the situation even worse.”
-V Jayakumar, environmentalist
V Jayakumar, an activist and environmentalist, says that the spill could have a long term environmental effect. “We are already noticing that the breeding cycle of some of the fish has changed. Ennore is already reeling due to excessive industrial activity resulting in fly-ash and toxic chemicals being dumped into the water. The oil spill has made the situation even worse.”
The spill coincided with the migration season of Ridley turtles and hundreds of turtles were found dead, covered in a thick sludge of oil (oil mixed with water, sand and moisture) all along the coast of Chennai and Thiruvallur.
A volunteer with the NGO, Save The Turtle, Youssef Labidi says, “We are expecting fewer turtles this year. Ridley turtles come to Chennai every year to breed because of warmer climate more suitable for the eggs to hatch. They are extremely important for the ocean ecosystem as they eat the excessive planktons which are generated in the oceans at this time. If these turtles stop coming, the results might be catastrophic.”
The cleanup action undertaken by NGT was officially declared finished last week. As many as 26 villages along the coast was identified and cleaned up by NGT workers, coastguards and volunteer.
Nityanand Jayaram, an environmentalist and social activist said, “The spill was a minor one as only the spirit oil (the fuel used by the ship) was leaked. Dawn Kanchipuram was carrying 45000tonnes of oil which, if had been compromised, could have resulted in an unimaginable catastrophe taking into account how inept we were in dealing with a small spill.”