The Blue Economy, through sustainable use of oceans, has great potential for boosting economic growth by providing opportunities for generating income and jobs through new resources for energy, new drugs, valuable chemicals, protein food, deep sea minerals, etc. In short, it is the next sunrise sector.
The present government’s initiative towards a Blue Economy was highlighted in the 2nd edition of the Maritime India Virtual Summit 2021 held on 2nd March 2021, which received enormous response from all stakeholders of the industry, and foreign dignitaries. One of the three components of the newly launched project called SAGARMANTHAN – MMDAC (Mercantile Marine Domain Awareness Centre) is Marine Environment Protection. The marine environment can be viewed as a pathway towards sustainable development that will support the pillars of the economy — coastal tourism and fisheries.
The first tanker accident at sea took place in 1967 when the ‘Torrey Canyon’ fell at Cornwall in England. This incident attracted worldwide attention on the risks of oil transportation. In 1973, IMO (International Maritime Organisation), under its International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), implemented stringent regulations. It described the procedure to monitor and control marine pollution through oil, air, sewage, garbage, noxious liquid cargo, etc.
In March 1989, the Exxon Valdez Oil spill released millions of gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound, Alaska. It was the worst environmental disaster in the history of Alaska and occurred in a very sensitive coastal ecosystem, thus magnifying the damage. The spill immediately resulted in the death of the wildlife causing significant reductions in tourism, recreational fishing and commercial fishing. Long-term direct effects of the spill included lingering oil with associated negative impacts on the ecosystem. Some marine animal populations have still not recovered to pre-spill levels.
The entire maritime industry was shaken and thereafter the MARPOL conventions were implemented with further stringent regulations laid out for merchant vessels and/or owners all over the world. The main reasons for oil spills from merchant ships around the world are grounding of vessels, collisions, continued use of old ships that break apart at sea, and fire.
After the Exxon Valdez incident, various annexes were introduced; today there are six annexes encompassing the pollution aspect in the Maritime Industry. LNG, Hydrogen, Solar Energy and Wind Turbines are prospective sources of energy to run ships in future in a bid to minimise pollution and help control climate change.
Many costal countries export crude oil to other countries and the traffic is borne by the Indian Ocean. Due to the heavy transportation in this area, oil spill accidents are regular; statistics reveal approximately 40% of the total world oil spills take place in the Indian Ocean. Oil pollution is a thus a chronic problem in the Indian marine sector.
India is playing a leading role in monitoring marine pollution in the Indian Ocean through its department of Ocean Development and The National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) headquartered at Dona Paula, Goa. India had started monitoring marine pollution in the 1970s through the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), working under NIO. The INS Darshak was used to investigate historically significant shipwrecks in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The open ocean research was further boosted following the commissioning of CSIRNIO’s first research vessel, Gaveshani, which was acquired in 1976.
More than 500 million tonnes of oil transits through the Indian coastline annually and more than 200 million tonnes of oil are imported by India. The threat of oil spill pollution in the Indian Ocean is continuously rising as indicated by the incidents in the South of Sri Lanka in September 2020, and at Ennore, Chennai on 28th January 2017. These incidents are clear warnings to make our system more effective so that oil pollution in the Indian Ocean can be minimised.
The Indian Coast Guard plays a vital role in this pollution response plan, maintaining stockpiles of equipment at its pollution response centres at Mumbai, Chennai, Port Blair and Vadinar. It has also assigned two vessels to handle oil spill emergencies. Each Coast station is additionally equipped with stocks of oil dispersant.
While all oil pollution regulations are strictly followed at sea, the coastal areas are always neglected because of poor awareness among fishermen. The coastal waters, which include rivers, waterways, harbour and beach areas, pose a danger to the environment. This is largely due to garbage dumped by locals and factories spewing chemicals into rivers. Excess nutrients from untreated sewage, agricultural runoff and marine debris such as plastics also constitute marine pollution. Coastal traffic, including, coastal vessels, fishing vessels/trawlers, barges and tug boats, contributes to pollution in the form of oil, untreated water, sewage and fishing nets. The chemical waste in urban areas is harmful to important marine species and needs to be controlled. Plastic, which is extremely difficult to dispose off, is one of the most crucial factors affecting the environment negatively. Plastic also affects sea creatures and on a larger scale damages the ecosystem. The following images showcase how sea animals get affected by fishing nets and plastic.
The above pictures are of beaches along the Indian coast, one near urban areas and the other located at a remote place and controlled by private entities.
Another aspect which enhances the pollution is the ship breaking business. In addition to taking a huge toll on the health of workers, ship breaking is a highly polluting industry. Large amounts of carcinogens and toxic substances (PCB, PVC, PAH, TBT, mercury, lead, isocyanates, sulphuric acid) not only intoxicate the workers but are also dumped into the soil and coastal waters.
The fleet of ships around the world includes about 90,000 vessels and the average life of a ship is 20-25 years. The average number of large ships being scrapped each year is about 500-700 but taking into account vessels of all sizes this number may be as high as 3,000. Ninety percent of ship-breaking in the world is carried out in Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan and Turkey. An average size ship contains up to 7 tonnes of asbestos, which is often sold in the local communities after scrapping. As the majority of yards have no waste management systems or facilities to prevent pollution, shipbreaking takes an enormous toll on the surrounding environment, the local communities, fisheries, agriculture, flora and fauna. This naturally causes serious environmental hazards with long-term effects for occupational, public and environmental health. Although the ship breaking industry fetches huge amounts of revenue, the pollution aspect and the health & hygiene of workers cannot be overlooked. Hence, proper storage tanks for chemicals remaining on ships and storage facilities for leftover fuel will ensure significant control on oil spills and pollution.
In order to deal with any pollution disaster, training and awareness programs in schools and colleges, and the research and development sector need to be initiated on a large scale by the pollution control board of each state, or entities from private sectors. Stringent rules need to be implemented and monitored. Introduction of new technology in the marine sector will also helps in preventing the collision of ships. Training facilities for ship breaking operators must be developed, maintained in optimum conditions and properly used. Marine protection is one of the most important factors of the Blue Economy and if we cannot protect the environment, we cannot achieve a prosperous Blue Economy.
Capt. Vikrant Nagarkar
Capt. Vikrant Nagarkar completed his B.Sc (Phy) from Pune University and in 1992 achieved Certificate Proficiency (Govt of India) for the post of Radio Officer on ships. Subsequently, he started his career in Merchant Navy as a Radio Officer. After completing the required sea time, he successfully finished several examinations for different categories of the Certificate of Competency from Fleetwood Nautical College, Blackpool, UK. In 2009, he accomplished the position of Captain and sailed until 2019 when he took voluntary retirement from the Merchant Navy. Since then, Capt. Nagarkar has been working as a Sr. Assistant faculty in Tolani Maritime Institute, Talegaon.