The National Pollution Response Exercise-IX, the periodical exercise conducted by the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) to assess its preparedness to respond to any oil spill event at sea, began in Jamnagar on Friday with special focus on the Gulf of Kutch through which 70 per cent of India’s mineral oil imports move.
More than 115 delegates, representing about 70 stakeholder organisations, including oil refiners, are participating in the exercise. More than 31 delegates from 25 foreign countries are attending the event as observers.
Addressing the inaugural ceremony of the two-day event, Coast Guard Director General (DG) Rakesh Pal underlined the fragile ecosystem of the Gulf of Kutch and its importance as the gateway to India’s oil imports.
“Gulf of Kutch is an environmentally-sensitive area due the location of the Marine National Park in Devbhumi Dwarka and 42 islands along the Jamnagar coast, which are the habitats of many marine species… It is the hub of India’s three major oil refineries and handles almost 130 million metric tonne of oil annually as imports, over 50 metric tonne of exports and has one more than one single-point mooring,” Pal said. Almost 70 per cent oil shipments imported into India land on the coast of Gulf of Kutch, he added.
The Kandla port in Kutch and Vadinar near Jamnagar are the major landing points of imported crude oils in India. Additionally, Reliance Industries and Nayara Energy Limited, India’s two major private oil companies, have their refineries in Jamnagar and Devbhumi Dwarka districts, respectively, along with their own private jetties on the Gulf of Kutch. The coast of the gulf is lined by rich mangroves and also includes the Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary. Further, it also provides livelihood to hordes of fishing communities.
On Saturday, Coast Guard ships will simulate their response to an imaginary oil spill event off the Vadindar coast.
Inspector General Anil Kumar Harbola, who is the commander of Coast Guard’s North West region – which covers Gujarat – said that when a maritime disaster takes place, responders have to work in very challenging conditions. “Maritime accidents, unfortunately, continue to happen and when they occur, the scene is in a very hostile environment,” Harbola said, referring to a fire on board an oil tanker off Kandla port in 2018.
The Coast Guard is the nodal agency for leading response to oil and chemical spills along the Indian coast. It is also the designated competent authority to deal with oil and chemical spills in the South Asian Seas under the South Asian Cooperative Environment Programme, which has Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka as its members.
A documentary screened by the Coast Guard said that on average, 7,000 petroleum, oil and lubricant tankers call on Indian ports every year and there are 228 offshore assets, hence the need for preparedness.