Abandoned tanker in cyclone may lead to toxic chemical spill

Cyclone Maha satellite view. Credit: Jansatta

An abandoned tanker off the coast of Goa, the Indian-registered MV Nu-Shi Nalini, is at risk of spilling 2,800 million tonnes of naphtha in the upcoming Cyclone Maha. Concerns have risen regarding the naphtha on board, which is highly volatile, carcinogenic, and toxic with a low boiling point. “If any of the content spills, it will spell disaster for the aquatic and marine, life as well [as the] entire coastal zone running for miles,” said a top government officer.

While the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard are currently on high alert, they have noted that the central government authorities have been negligent in dealing with the vessel and the risks it poses. That is, although the vessel has been anchored off the coast of Goa since 21 September 2019, it has been abandoned and unattended since an explosion caused by naphtha seepage in the engine room occurred on 31 June 2018 off the coast of Kochi.

While the vessel was towed from Kochi anchorage to Goa on 15 July 2019, local issues prevented the discharge of its load of naphtha, and it was sent to outer anchorage of Mormugao Port, Goa. However, with Cyclone Kyarr hitting the west coast of Goa, the ship was dragged from its initial position in the north-east and ran aground on 25 October 2019 near Dona Paula, sustaining damage.

The vessel currently lays cantered 200 km south-east of Minicoy in the Lakshadweep islands. It is to move north westwardly across the Lakshadweep islands over the next 24 hours and then emerge in the east-central Arabian Sea.

The Mormugao Port Trust and District Collector of the region have kept pollution response equipment on standby. The District Collector has also requested to augment contingency measures as per the national Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan. Alerts have been issued to coastal states of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, and Maharashtra, including the union territories of Lakshadweep aside from fisheries authorities.