The Collision of Two Cargo Ships Caused the Mumbai Oil Spill

The Collision of Two Cargo Ships Caused the Mumbai Oil Spill

On August 7th 2010, two cargo ships, the Panama-flagged MSC Chitra and MV Khalijia collided off the coast India, near Mumbai. The MSC Chitra, which was outbound from South Mumbai’s Jawaharlal Nehru Port at around 9:50 A.M local time, collided with the inbound MV Khalijia. The collision resulted in the spilling of containers and oil along the full coastline.

The MSC Chitra, registered in Panama, is owned by Mediterranean Shipping Company, a public limited company based in Geneva, Switzerland. Its management operations are conducted from Hong Kong, while its local agents in Mumbai look after the loading and unloading of its ships. Khalijia, on the other hand, is owned by Gulf Rock KSC, a Kuwait-based public limited company, with management operations in Navi Mumbai.

When the MSC Chitra collided with the MV Khalijia, it was carrying a cargo of 1219 containers, 2662 tons of fuel, 283 tons of diesel, and 88040 litres of lubricating oil. The Chitra tilted sharply under the impact of the collision, resulting in the oil spill and over 200 containers detached and drifted away.

The two ships collided with each other about 10 km off Mumbai  Harbour. The Chitra  tilted  further  spilling  oil  for  several days  continuously  as the  Navy  and  Coast Guard made hectic efforts to contain the leak. The thirty-three member crew was rescued by Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) workers and the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC).

A case was filed against the captains of the two ships. An FIR (First Information Report) against both the captains and the ship’s’ crew members had been registered. Captain Martin of the MSC Chitra and Master Laxman Dubey of MV Khalijia III had been booked under IPC sections 280 [rash navigation] and 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others) and sections 7, 8, 9 pertaining to prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution of the Environment Protection Act.

The Navy and the Coast Guard carried out anti-pollution operations every day to check and neutralise the oil spill. Six coast guard vessels and a helicopter with anti-pollution dispersal spray systems were called into service a day following the collision to contain the spill.

Containing the spill was difficult due to the weather and tidal conditions. In a big relief,  after the two ships collided off the coast of Mumbai, Coast Guard authorities worked to plug the oil leak from the MSC Chitra. But the oil was already in the sea along the Mumbai coast line and would take a month to clear, according to environmental authorities, and was a serious worry. The government tried its best to contain the damage already done.

The main concern was to clear the thick oil sheet and resume the use of the channel. A high-level meeting, attended by the officials of the Maharashtra Government Environment Department, National Disaster Response Force, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, Shipping department, Mumbai Port Trust and other concerned agencies has been called to assess the situation and the steps that needed to be taken to bring it under control. Fishing associations had also been requested not to carry out any fishing activities till the oil spill is contained.

The Directorate General of Shipping had initiated an investigation into the incident, while Coast Guard and senior officials (Directorate General of Shipping) were at the site.
Three days after the collision, authorities reported that the leak had stopped. Despite the oil leak stopping, the pollution response vessels continued to spray oil spill dispersants. Around 800 tonnes of oil floated on the sea and came dangerously close to the coast line. Efforts continued to clear up the oil spill, which spanned around two miles in the Arabian sea. Five Indian Coast Guard ships had been deployed to control the spill and guide relief efforts, as well as a helicopter and a small aircraft, making it the biggest operation to date in the Indian sea waters.

At least 250 containers from the damaged vessel fell off. Port officials had tried to salvage them. On August 10th, two days after the collision, traffic had been suspended amid fears of navigational hazards to other ships. Authorities had started trying to round up the floating containers and told fishermen to stop fishing in the area. Oil and other toxic chemicals from within the ships and their cargo could threaten the wildlife on the coast.


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