Oil Leaks from Grounded Tanker off Karachi

KARACHI, Pakistan, July 30, 2003 (ENS) - Crude oil from a Greek flagged oil tanker that ran aground on Sunday night off the Port of Karachi on the Arabian Sea will be lifted from the stricken vessel with the help of a tanker from the United Arab Emirates, port officials said.

The "MT Tasman Spirit," carrying 62,000 metric tons of crude oil for the Pakistan Oil Refinery, was scheduled to arrive in the Port of Karachi on Saturday.

But the tanker was late entering Karachi waters and grounded in a squall when high tides caused it to drift into one of the port's channels near the harbor mouth, according to a statement by port officials on Monday.

"The vessel, in its present position, is clear of the channel and all port operations remain normal," officials said, but concerns remain about oil that is leaking from the grounded tanker.


The busy Port of Karachi (Photo courtesy H.M.G.)
Pakistan Navy and Karachi Port Trust (KPT) officials are waiting for the rescue tanker from Al Fujaira which is expected to arrive today.

A KPT effort to float the grounded vessel on Monday with the help of high tides did not succeed.

The vessel has been ruptured and the spilled oil has spread to Clifton beach, where it is feared the oil will impact the marine life and the coastline. Developed as a health resort in the 19th century by the British, Clifton is now one of Karachi's most exclusive residential areas and a popular beach frequented by Karachi residents and tourists.

Port officials said the grounded tanker was chartered by Pakistan National Shipping Corporation, the national flag carrier of Pakistan. The autonomous corporation functions under the overall control of the Ministry of Communications, Government of Pakistan.

About 80 percent of the world's oil from the Persian Gulf travels through Pakistan's Exclusive Economic Zone, but there is no contingency plan in the country to an combat oil spill near the coast or in the deep ocean, said an article Tuesday in the newspaper "Dawn."

An oil spill contingency plan was prepared by the Maritime Security Agency in 2000, but the newspaper reports that this plan is stuck in the environment ministry.


Oil from the grounded tanker is washing ashore on popular Clifton beach. (Photo courtesy Ehson Syed)
The plan calls for the purchase of US$5 million worth of oil spill control equipment, a $20 million pollution control vessel, and $10 million for training and the procurement of oil spill dispersing chemicals.

The waters in and around the Port of Karachi are already polluted with an accumulation of oil, pesticides, and various metals, according to a host of expert reports. Parts of the mudflat areas are covered with oil, leading to avoidance by fish and shrimp, and increased erosion because dying mangroves can no longer reinforce the banks with their roots.

The maximum potential for ship accidents comes during the rainy monsoon season which is now in progress. On Sunday, an emergency was declared in the province of Sindh, of which Karachi is the capital, as the death toll in monsoon related incidents rose to 59 persons killed.