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As Machines Fail, Chennai Fights Manually To Clear Oil Spill


Five days after two ships collided off the Chennai shore, leading to a massive oil spill, the much-hyped super sucker machines have failed to pump out the sludge. Now, hundreds of Coast Guard personnel and volunteers have taken it upon themselves to manually clear the near 20 tonnes of oil spill.

Along the beach near Ennore, a Chennai suburb, boulders have blocked the shore, which makes it impossible for waves to naturally wash the oil ashore. And the spill has been thickening every day.

"We've tried all kinds of technology and found manual clearing is the only possibility. We've deployed more people," said MA Bhaskarachar, Chairman of Kamarajar Port Limited.

Along the other beaches, including Chennai's most famous beach Marina, workers and volunteers are working hard to remove pollutants from the sand without any protective gear. Hundreds of bags with contaminated soil are being moved out.

Amavasai, a worker, said "It smells bad and sticks to our hand, but we are happy to work for the people."

With turtles dying in the polluted area, environmentalists are worried.

"The spill will affect oxygen supply to these aquatic species. More species will die. But we are not able to assess the loss as we don't have a base line," said an environmentalist Emily Titus.

Fishermen have been hit hard by the oil spill too. Many stayed away from the sea for the fourth straight day as not many consumers are buying their catch.

Shakila says she has Rs. 30,000 worth of fish, but no customers. "There have been heavy losses. I have not sold fish even worth Rs. 2,000. Nobody turned up over the last three days," she says.

Experts from Chennai's Anna University have deployed a state of the art unmanned vehicle to map the oil spill.

"Through the analysis we can locate the spill areas and decide on effective measures," says Dr K Senthil Kumar, Director, Centre for Aerospace Research.