No contingency plan for at least one year
Abu Bakar Siddique

  • The capsized oil-tanker in Shela River in the Sundarbans spilling dark furnace oil 

It will take one more year to finalise a national oil spill contingency plan, which began two years ago, to avoid large-scale damages in future.

Taken up after experiencing several oil spills, some in the Sundarbans, requires the coordination of 20 government agencies including port authorities, the navy and coast guard will require some more work, said Mokbul Hossain, director of the Department of Environment, the designated focal point.

Mokbul, who is heading the initiative, told the Dhaka Tribune that Bangladesh does not have the expertise on the issue. “We will need more time to finish the work.”

He said the environment department had already identified the 20 stakeholders who will be involved in the plan with specific roles to play in case of such a disaster. “Now we need around one year to finalise the plan and related policies.”

Bangladesh undertook the initiative in 2015 under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in 2010 among five coastal countries in South Asia — Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

The memorandum stipulates that once a country finalises a contingency plan, it will get cooperation — including technical and equipment support, information, logistic support, etc — from the regional countries in tackling such disasters.

According to government statistics, about 5,000 large water vessels including oil tankers and cargo ships ply the country’s coast and another 7,000 small and medium sized vessels sail along Bangladesh’s coast, rivers and canals every year, all the while releasing large amounts of oil.

The need for a functional oil spill contingency plan was highlighted by two major spills, the first of which came on December 09, 2014 when an oil tanker with 3,57,000 litres of furnace oil capsized in Shela river inside the world’s largest mangrove forest Sundarbans.

The spill decimated flora and fauna of the surrounding areas of the forest. Rescuers even found a dead sweet water Irawaddy Dolphin.

The rescue operation was delayed as the Forest Department did not have the know-how and necessary equipment to contain the spill.

The other accident came on June 19, 2015 when three furnace oil wagons derailed and sank in Boalkhali canal of Karnaphuli river in the southern part of Bangladesh spilling thousands of litres of furnace oil.

Moreover, in October 27, 2015 a cargo vessel, loaded with 510 tonnes of coal, capsized in Pashur River near Mongla. The Khulna bound ship MV Zia Raj capsized with a fractured keel.

Acknowledging the damages as a result of lack of a contingency plan, Mokbul Hossain said the government had taken the issue seriously and therefore launched the formulation of a plan.

The plan will contain all necessary issues to tackle oil spill including operations, process, equipment and capacity building.

India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have formulated their plans, while the Maldives is trying to do it with Indian cooperation. 

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