X-Press Pearl disaster: Indian fisherman alarmed over marine pollution

By Siva Parameswaran

Fishermen along the South Indian coast have expressed fears after the deadly toxic leak from the vessel MV X-press pearl which sank off the coast of Colombo last month.

Returning to the seas, after the seasonal fishing ban, fishermen from Rameswaram and other places in Tamil Nadu say they are worried about the pollution caused to the marine life on which their livelihood rests.

“We observed some changes in the catch and are worried about it. We suspect the catch could be contaminated with oil and microplastic pellets” Mariadoss Arunlesan a fisherman told JDS.

Locals and fish merchants are hesitant to buy the catch fearing customers may totally avoid buying fish from the catch along the Indo-Sri Lankan coast, he further said.

The samples of the catch including fish, prawns, and squid have been sent for testing to the Central Fisheries Research Institute campus in Mandapam near Rameswaram. Tests are being carried out for any oil contents in the fins, micro plastic pellets in the mouth of the fishes, prawns, crabs among others.

Physical features of the samples such as length, breadth, weight outer appearance are being carried out in the test.

Worst ecological disaster

Alarm bells started ringing in Southern India after scores of rare marine creatures including sea turtles, dolphins among others washed ashore dead off the Colombo coast.

Environmental activists say, the possibility of toxic chemicals getting into marine life and spreading to the Indian Maritime boundaries cannot be ruled out.

“When exposed to oil, adult fish may experience reduced growth, enlarged livers, changes in heart and respiration rates, fin erosion, and reproduction impairment. Fish eggs and larvae can be especially sensitive to lethal and sublethal impacts. Even when lethal impacts are not observed, oil can make fish and shellfish unsafe for humans to eat,” says the US National Ocean Service of the Department of Commerce.

X-Press pearl burning in the sea discharging huge quantities of nitric acid apart from oil and plastic pellets is considered the worst ecological disaster in Sri Lankan history.

Sri Lanka’s Marine Environmental Protection Authority (MEPA) and health officials warned of a possibility for mild acid rains in the country due to the emission of nitrogen dioxide.

'Fishermen terrified'

On July 4th, Colombo based weekly 'The Sunday Times' reported that Colombo magistrate court has been informed that "the hundreds of sea creatures who have washed up dead on the country’s beaches in the days following the X-Press Pearl disaster had not died of natural causes and their deaths had been the direct result of the incident involving the vessel."

"Bodies of 200 sea creatures who had died due to the disaster have so far been collected by Sri Lanka's Department of Wildlife Conservation. They include 170 sea turtles, 20 dolphins and four whales," the report added.

Scientists have warned that ocean current could eventually carry the plastic pellets wide around killing more wildlife and damaging sensitive eco-systems.

South Indian fishermen who venture into deep-sea fishing say this disaster will have a huge impact on the fishermen for a long time, who are already losing out on marine resources in the Arabic sea off the coast of India and Sri Lanka.

“Local people are aware of this as news channels were continuously broadcasting this and people are terrified of buying fish from those returning from the sea. They are aware of the areas where our fishermen venture into the sea’’ Antony Muthu another fisherman said.

The results of the testing are expected in a weeks time, which authorities say “if found alarming it would be shared with Sri Lanka and the federal government would be urged to look into this as a matter of urgency”.

Sri Lanka has already banned fishing along an 80 KM coastline to avoid the toxic contamination getting into the food chain.

Experts say the leak of Oil from any ship in the sea destroys the insulating ability of fur-bearing mammals such as sea otters and the water repellency of a bird’s feathers. Without the ability to repel water and insulate from cold water they would die causing a huge ecological disaster.

Young sea turtles can also become trapped in oil mistaking it for food. Dolphins and whales can inhale the oil, which can affect lungs, immune function, and reproduction.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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