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Dhaka Tribune

Oil being removed at snail’s pace

Update : 20 Jun 2015, 07:44 PM

The 90,000 litre furnace oil spilled from three wagons plunged into Boalkhali canal on Friday is spreading across the Karnaphuli River quickly due to tidal water while the authorities have not got adequate equipment and mechanism to stop the spill and rescue the wagons.

Officials of Bangladesh Railway and Department of Environment with assistance of local people started removing oil from the canal yesterday noon. The oil spill has spread over 20 kilometres on both sides of the canal, DoE officials say.

Railway officials say they need at least a week to complete the rescue operation and resume the Chittagong-Dohajaree route.

The Dhaka Tribune correspondent visited the link point of the Karnaphuli River and the Boalkhali canal in Paschim Shakpura area in the morning and found that the oil was getting mixed with the river water, unnoticed by the authorities.

Divisional Railway Manager (east) Mofizur Rahaman said it would take couple of days to rescue the train engine while the entire rescue operation would take more time since the railway authorities did not have necessary rescue equipment. He said rescuing the engine was their first priority.

Two empty wagons were sent to the spot from Chittagong yesterday noon to recover the furnace oil from another derailed but unaffected wagon.

DoE Chittagong Director Mokbul Hossain said: “We have started removing oil from the canal and the Karnaphuli River using local methods – by putting small embankments on the links of the canal and other water bodies.”

Blaming the authorities concerned for such massive loss, the official said they would take action as per the rules and regulations against those responsible for the incident. “Negligence of the authorities concerned has been found while discharging their duties causing the environmental loss.”

He admitted that the country does not have enough plan and mechanism to face such incident, especially with regard to removing spilled oil from the water.

The engine and three oil wagons derailed when the Number 24 Bridge – locally known as Shakerpool – collapsed around 2pm on Friday, leaving two train drivers injured and causing spill of the oil, meant for the 100MW power plant at Dohajaree.

The dilapidated bridge had been identified as a “death point” by the railway authorities eight years back.

Two probe bodies have been formed to look into the matter and asked to submit reports within three working days. Two railway engineers were suspended.

This is the second such incident in Chittagong’s Boalkhali upazila, where another oil-carrying wagon was derailed on July 31, 2013 from the Kalurghat Bridge.

Similarly, five wagons carrying furnace oil and an engine were derailed near Fouzdarhat Railway Station in Chittagong’s Sitakunda on July 7 last year resulting in a large amount of furnace oil contaminating the waters of the Bay of Bengal.

Meanwhile, supply of furnace oil to the power plant remained suspended since the incident. Asked if the supply crunch could hinder power generation, Manager Arifur Rahman replied in the negative and said they had fuel stock for 10-15 days.

Three types of effects on biodiversity and ecosystem

Chittagong University’s zoology department Associate Professor Dr Manjurul Kibria said plants and water animals of the canal and the river would be the direct victim of the oil spill incident.

“Moreover, birds that live on fishes and water plants as well as adjoining farmlands will also be affected,” he said. The impact would be long term and put biodiversity and ecosystems in danger.

Further repetition of such incidents would also threaten the existence of the Karnaphuli River, Prof Kibria added.

Four more dead stops in same route

According to the railway officials, a total 58 small bridges in Chittagong-Dohajaree route are in bad shape while four others, labelled as “dead stops” are in highly vulnerable state.

To prevent accidents, trains have to run slow while crossing the bridges.

Railway’s traffic sources said 20 such derailment incidents took place in the last two years in Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet districts. Of them, the incident at Kalurghat and Fouzdarhat were dangerous.

DRM Mofizur said they were repairing the rail tracks under a project to improve rail communication between Chittagong and Dohajaree. The bridges would be repaired in phases, he added. 

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