The Forest Department looks fighting a losing battle to manually clean up the spilt-oil from rivers in the Sundarbans as it has already dissolved in river waters.
“Most of the oil has already dissolved or spread faraway,” Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Amir Hossain told UNB.
He said as the oil is becoming less visible on the water surface due to the dissolution, the hope for further scooping of the slick is getting dimmer.
Amir Hossain admitted that the drive of the Forest Department to clean up the oil slick by hiring boats have not come to much effect. “Neither the Forest Department, nor the Port Authority (Mongla) has the mechanical equipment for the technical clean-up of the oil,” he added.
Monirul H Khan, a wildlife expert and Professor of Zoology at Jahangirnagar University, told UNB that as most of the oil slick has already been dissolved in the water as well as spread across the shorelines of the canals, bigger animals will now be forced to drink the contaminated water or escape their usual dwelling due to the stink of the water. “So, the gravity of the problem will start surfacing with the passing of days,” he said.
Wildteam chief executive Prof Anwarul Islam said if the oil is dissolved with water, a health risk will remain to the wildlife and plants of the forests.
Apart from the growing concern over the survival of multiple species of flora and fauna, now the fear is heightening about the livelihoods of the people living on the forest resources.
Hauling their nets in desperation over their usual fishing spots in the East Zone of the mangrove over the last couple of days, the fishermen keep on wondering -- where all the fishes have gone!
However, it cannot be taken for granted that all the wildlife have managed to escape the oil slick as many fishermen returning from their failed fish hauling have reported that huge number of small dead fishes, snakes and crabs popped up in their view inside the forest.
On Saturday, the dead body of an Irrawaddy dolphin was located in the Harintana-Tambulbunia channel of the Shela River, some 25 kilometres south off the oil tanker-crash spot.
But, the authorities are not yet ready to confirm that the death of the dolphin reportedly found about 25 kilometres from the sunken tanker was caused by the oil spill as they wan to have an autopsy on it. “We would like to have an autopsy on it to be sure that the death was caused by the oil spill,” forest officer Amir Hossain told reporters.
Fisherman Afzal Sheikh told UNB that they have also come across birds and crabs enmeshed in the black oil slick and striving for their lives as like in a death pit.
The Wildlife Circle of the Forest department has already formed a monitoring team to asses the losses of the aquatic biodiversity and other damages caused by the oil spill, he said, adding that smaller plants in huge areas of the mangrove have no chance to survive as the oil have been lapped over the plants along the shorelines due to tidal flows.
On top it, the local people have already lost their interest in engaging in the Forest Department’s clean-up drive on its second day because of alleged underpayment.
Day-labourers hired by the department on Saturday said they were paid only Tk 200 per head, whereas the contract was to pay Tk 500.
Although oil tanker ‘Southern Star 7’, carrying some 3.57 lakh litres of furnace oil, sank in the Shela River at Mrigmari under East Zone of the Sundarbans five days back, the manual clean-up drive engaging local people started only after the vessel was pulled up on the third day of the capsize.
Spending three days in assessing whether chemical dispersant to clean up the oil-slick will be used or not, the Forest Department retreated from the plan and launched an improvised drive by hiring some 100 boats and 200 day labourers to clean up the oil manually.
As of Sunday noon, some 21,000 litres of the spilled out oil has been recovered by the local people and the hired labourers, said Padma Oil Company’s contractor Rafiqul Islam Babu.
Rafiqul Islam said the oil recovery has already lost the momentum and not much oil expected to be collected rest of the day.
In Mongla Port town, several civil society organisations, including Poribesh Bachao Andolon, Save the Sundarbans Initiative and Bangladesh Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge, formed a human chain on Sunday, protesting the ‘gross negligence’ of the authorities to clean up the oil slick.
They demanded that the government should impose a ban on the playing of any kind of commercial transportation on the waterways in the Sundarbans to save the forest.