Dr Manmohan Singh
Government of India
Date: August 27, 2013
Subject-Like Iran, India too should detain polluted ships like Exxon Valdez which enter Indian waters with impunity
This is with reference to the detention of a polluted Indian ship, MT Desh Shanti by Iranian authorities because it was contaminated with oily ballast water.
I submit that ballast water is a matter of concern because they carry alien and invasive species of micro-organisms like zebra mussels, Round goby, spiny winter flea, Ruffe etc which can eliminate domestic species if their predators are not there in the local ecosystem.
I submit that Indian being a signatory to UN agency International Maritime Convention (IMO)’s International Convention for Prevention of Pollution from ships (MARPOL, 1973, 1978) is under legal obligation to take similar action when such ships enter Indian waters. The Convention’s Annexure III deal with Ballast Water Management for which India’s Directorate General of Shipping, Union Ministry of Shipping organised a workshop in 2008.
I submit that verification of certificates, inspection of ballast water record book and sampling of ship’s ballast water are routine procedures followed in transboundary shipping.
I submit that ensuring compliance with the above mentioned Convention is a matter of procedure and all sovereign countries will have to ensure that ships of this nature are resisted legally because pollution follows the path of least resistance.
I submit that India offers least resistance to such ships. This state of affairs must be set right. There are numerous examples in public domain in this regard and with regard to some of them I have been an applicant in the Supreme Court.
I submit that unlike Iran, India has been lax in the implementation of this Convention, relevant domestic laws and Supreme Court’s orders. Colluding and conniving officials in our Ministry of wkShipping and Ministry of Environment & Forests have been presenting fait accompli to the Courts. The case of entry of Exxon Valdez, an end-of-life ship of US origin is a case in point.
I submit that our Supreme Court’s order of October 14, 2003 in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 657 of 1995 also referred to the threats from ballast water and sought its regulation in the matter of allowing entry of end-of-life ships in to Indian waters.
I submit that such structural weakness on the part of our Government agencies compromises India’s maritime borders and makes Indian waters vulnerable to invasive species of micro-organisms through ballast water.
I submit that while ballast water is essential for safe and efficient modern shipping operations, it may pose serious ecological, economic and health problems due to the multitude of marine species carried in ships’ ballast water. These include bacteria, microbes, small invertebrates, eggs, cysts and larvae of various species. The transferred species may survive to establish a reproductive population in the host environment, becoming invasive, out-competing native species and multiplying into pest proportions.
I submit that scientists first recognized the signs of an alien species introduction after a mass occurrence of the Asian phytoplankton algae Odontella (Biddulphia sinensis) in the North Sea in 1903. But it was not until the 1970s that the scientific community began reviewing the problem in detail. In the late 1980s, Canada and Australia were among countries experiencing particular problems with invasive species, and they brought their concerns to the attention of IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC).
The problem of invasive species in ships’ ballast water is largely due to the expanded trade and traffic volume over the last few decades and since the volumes of seaborne trade continue to increase the problem may not yet have reached its peak. The effects in many areas of the world have been devastating. Quantitative data show the rate of bio-invasions is continuing to increase at an alarming rate and new areas are being invaded all the time.
The spread of invasive species is now recognized as one of the greatest threats to the ecological and the economic well being of the planet. These species are causing enormous damage to biodiversity and the valuable natural riches of the earth upon which we depend. Direct and indirect health effects are becoming increasingly serious and the damage to environment is often irreversible.
I submit that IMO’s International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships Ballast Water & Sediments was adopted in February 2004. It is about to enter into force as so far 37 countries have ratified it totaling 30.2 % of world tonnage in merchant shipping. It will enter into force as soon as countries contribute up to 35 % of the tonnage. It may be noted that International Chamber of Shipping is seeking dilution this Convention.
I submit that the detention of Shipping Corporation of India (SCI)’s oil tanker detained for almost a fortnight at the Bandar Abbas Port must be looked at in this context.
In view of the above, I urge you that while Government of Iran should be persuaded to release the oil tanker for its return journey to India but the lesson for India to ensure safety of Indian coastal ecosystem from such ships should not be forgotten in haste. India should ban entry of all ships causing pollution of ilk including ballast water in general and end-of-life ships in particular which violate MARPOL Convention.
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
Chairman, Press Council of India, New Delhi