- Southern Star 7
- Accident date
- Accident area
- South of the Port of Mongla, Shela River (Sundarbans), Bengal Delta
- Spill area
- Cause of spill
- Product transported
- Furnace oil
- Quantity transported
- 350 tonnes
- Nature of pollutant
- Furnace oil
- Quantity spilled
- 350 tonnes
- Ship / structure type
- Oil tanker
On the 9th of December 2014, following a collision with another ship near the village of Jaymoni in thick fog, the small tanker Southern Star 7 sank south of the Port of Mongla. Following this incident, the whole of its cargo, 350 tonnes of furnace oil (similar to IFO 380), was released into the Shela River. This is one of the many rivers of the Bengal Delta, which is home to the world's largest mangrove known as Sunderbans. This geographical area is a very fragile natural region, whose great wealth and biodiversity mean that it is protected by two global initiatives, under the RAMSAR convention and as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The majority of the Irrawaddy dolphin population, a rare, endangered species, lives in this region, also inhabited by Bengal tigers. The mangrove, one of the largest in the world, provides many resources for the local population. This was the first spill of this size in Bangladesh, a particularly sensitive site.
Request for assistance
On 15th December 2014, fearing severe impact of the pollution on the mangrove environment (protected dolphin sanctuary) and on the population whose livelihood depends on this region, the Government of Bangladesh requested technical assistance from the United Nations through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for spill response and impact assessment.
The following day, the French Government officially assured its Bangladeshi counterpart of France's solidarity in the face of this disaster and offered, if considered necessary, Cedre's expertise. An expert from Cedre was sent on site on 20th December, upon request by Ségolène Royal, the Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy. Another expert from Cedre also left the same day, under the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, alongside the United Nations team, to assess and coordinate the disaster. This mission was coordinated by UNDP, in order to provide assistance and advice to the Bangladeshi authorities on the management and mitigation of impacts of the spill caused by the sinking of this ship.
Upon arrival, the experts from Cedre observed a low degree of stabilised pollution without visible accumulations of pollutant (floating or on shore). The limited impact of the spill can be explained by various factors, including:
- the relatively moderate quantity initially spilt
- the strong tidal currents, promoting natural cleaning of the affected area
- the favourable tidal range and cycle at the time of the collision (no flooding of the mangrove which often occurs with spring tides), together with the presence of cliffs along the shores stopping the pollution from reaching the mangrove
- the suspension of movement of all vessels on the Shela River, following a decision made by the authorities very soon after the incident.
In the first few hours following the incident, the Forest Department (FD) under the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) organised response operations with support from the Indian Navy, then the following day, shoreline clean-up, with help from the local communities. The FD decided to pay for the oil recovered. The use of dispersants was considered but rapidly rejected due to the potential impact on flora and fauna. The Government of Bangladesh was strongly criticised by the media as oil recovery operations did not start until four days after the collision and involved too few responders, for a spill spreading over around 80 km of shoreline.
The local population was actively involved in collecting the oil, which certainly enabled a non-negligible share to be recovered, therefore reducing the environmental impact and spread of the spill. However recovery was largely implemented without Personal Protective Equipment (non-existent in Bangladesh), using buckets and cloths, resulting in symptoms of intoxication in operators.
Oil was also recovered on the water:
- protection across entrances to channels and small rivers using nets, to trap the oil
- collection of oil using fishing or shrimping nets
- use of floating vegetation, water hyacinths, to trap the oil then recover it by draining
- setting up of a line pirogues, positioned diagonally, to block the pollution.
The issue of waste management was relatively poorly known.
There was no major widespread impact on wildlife. The impact on the mangrove was also relatively limited. However the impact on the population, whose livelihood depends on fishing, gathering and hunting, was high, in particular during the first two weeks following the spill: loss of income, lack of food, loss of fishing gear (oiled nets having been used to collect the oil).