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Page last updated at 14:32 GMT, Thursday, 24 September 2009 15:32 UK

Oil spill threatens rare turtles

By Sanjaya Jena in Bhubaneswar

Olive Ridley turtle
Olive Ridleys are well known for nesting on beaches in the region.

An oil spillage from a ship which has sunk off the coast of the Indian state of Orissa could harm rare Olive Ridley sea turtles, environmentalists warn.

They say that parts of the beach have turned black as oil carried by waves continues to come ashore.

They also say that dead fish have been found on the coast near Paradip port.

But port authorities insist that there will not be a major spill because most of the oil is "semi-solid" and remains inside three sealed containers.

The Mongolian ship experienced difficulties on 9 September and then sank off the coast in the Bay of Bengal.

At the time of the accident, the ship was sailing out of the harbour with about 24,000 tonnes of iron ore on board.

Of the 27 crew members, 26 were rescued by port employees and the Coast Guard.

'High mortality'

"If urgent steps are not taken by concerned agencies to empty the fuel tank of the capsized vessel, the oil spill may spread onto Gahirmatha beach, posing a serious threat to the mass nesting grounds of Olive Ridley sea turtles," environmentalist Biswajit Mohanty said.

Map

"The turtles are likely to begin their mass nesting in the area by the end of this month.

"The sea waves in the region break from south to north, which will push the oil spill towards Gahirmatha beach. This may also cause high mortality among marine species including jelly fish and crabs. That in turn will lead to starvation among Olive Ridleys, who feed on them," Mr Mohanty said.

Gahirmatha sea beach is five nautical miles away from the spot where the ship ran into difficulties.

Orissa's state government has asked for help from central government, saying it is worried about the delay in salvaging the ship and the possibility of a serious oil spill.

Small spillages

However, port authorities in the state say that the leakage will not cause much damage to the local eco-system.

Oil spill on Orissa beach
Some oil has already arrived on Orrissa's beaches

"The furnace oil stored in the chambers [of the ship] was in semi-solid condition and becomes liquid only after heating. Therefore the oozing of semi-solid oil... from the vessel is remote," Paradip Port Trust chairman K Raghuramaiah said.

The port chairman insisted that a large scale spillage was also not possible because the bulk of the oil was in three sealed chambers which remained intact.

However port officials have not ruled out the possibility of some small spillages of "furnace and lube oil" from the ship's engine room.

The beaches of Orissa are one of the world's last nesting grounds for Olive Ridleys, which have been listed under the US Endangered Species Act.



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