Tunisian authorities activate ‘national emergency plan’ to prevent pollution from oil spill

Contact Counsellor

Tunisian authorities activate ‘national emergency plan’ to prevent pollution from oil spill

  • Tunisian authorities have intensified efforts to avoid an environmental disaster after a merchant fuel ship carrying one thousand tons of fuel sank off the coast of Gabes
  • According to the Environment minister of Tunisia the cause of the incident was bad weather

About Oil spills

  • An oil spill is the release of a liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment, especially the marine ecosystem, due to human activity, and is a form of pollution.
  • OECD defines an oil spill as oil, discharged accidentally or intentionally, that floats on the surface of water bodies as a discrete mass and is carried by the wind, currents and tides.

Main causes of Oil Spills

  • Natural causes: Tsunami, Cyclone, Thunderstorm etc.
  • Human Causes: War, attack, sabotage, human mistakes leading to a collision or some technical reasons,releases of crude oil from tankers, offshore platforms, drilling rigs and wells, as well as spills of refined petroleum products (such as gasoline, diesel) and their by-products, heavier fuels used by large ships such as bunker fuel, or the spill of any oily refuse or waste oil.

Impact of oil spills on humans

  • On Skin: some of the oil components could be irritants to the skin and may also penetrate into our bodies via skin absorption
  • On Breathing: many individual components of oil are volatile and thus may easily evaporate and while breathing can enter our bodies.
  • Represents immediate fire hazard.
  • Contamination of drinking water supplies.
  • Economic impact on tourism and marine resource extraction industries

Environmental impact

  • Natural Biodegradation: If released in the water, oil and oil products tend to accumulate at the surface of the water and float on the water.
  • Small oil droplets may also form which may increase the surface contact with water and also the natural biodegradation of the spilled oil
  • On marine fauna: heavily furred marine mammals exposed to oil spills are affected by it.
  • Oil coats the fur of sea otters and seals, reducing its insulating effect, and leading to fluctuations in body temperature and hypothermia.
  • Oil can also blind an animal, leaving it defenceless.
  • The ingestion of oil causes dehydration and impairs the digestive process.
  • Animals can be poisoned, and may die from oil entering the lungs or liver.
  • Air quality: The chemicals in crude oil are mostly hydrocarbons that contain toxic chemicals such as benzenes, toluene, poly-aromatic hydrocarbon and oxygenated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which degrades air quality
  • These chemicals can introduce adverse health effects when being inhaled into the human body.
  • Threat to Mangroves: saltwater marshes and Mangroves frequently suffer from oil spills.

Methods to clear oil spills

  • Bioremediation: use of microorganisms or biological agents to break down or remove oil; such as Alcanivorax bacteria
  • Dredging: for oils dispersed with detergents and other oils denser than water
  • Vacuum and centrifuge: oil can be sucked up along with the water, and then a centrifuge can be used to separate the oil from the water allowing a tanker to be filled with near pure oil.
  • Beach Raking: coagulated oil that is left on the beach can be picked up by machinery.
  • Oil Zapper: cocktail of bacteria that feed on the oil and degrade the hydrocarbons.
  • Nanosheets: recyclable material which absorbs 33 times their weight in oil.
  • One gram of nanosheets has the equivalent area as nearly 5.5 tennis courts so it have a lot of surface for absorption of spilled oil

Rules and regulation related to Oil spill in India

  • There is currently no law in India that covers oil spills and the environmental harm they cause, but the country does have a "National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan of 1996 (NOS-DCP)" to deal with such occurrences.
  • The Ministry of Defence published the document in 1996, and it was last revised in March 2006.
  • It enables the Indian Coast Guard the authority to work with state departments, ministries, port authorities, and environmental organisations to help clean up oil spills.

International efforts

  • International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage, 2001: administered by the International Maritime Organisation
  • Oil spill damage is compensated in a fair, timely, and effective manner under the convention.
  • It was ratified by India in 2015.

Exam Track

Prelims takeaway

  • Oil Spill
  • IMO
  • OECD

Mains Track

Q The incidents of Oil Spills pose threat to environment as well as humans. Discuss.