Monday, July 23, 2012

Battle Continues Between Environmentalist and Commercial Freight and Shipping Interests

Waters off Sri Lanka and India Produce Fresh Conflict between Ecological and Economic Lobbyists
Shipping News Feature

SRI LANKA – The waters off the island are a battleground as opposing forces face off once again with the suggestion from environmentalists that the main shipping route is moved further out into the Indian Ocean to protect the dwindling stocks of Blue Whales which inhabit the region off Sri Lanka’s Southern Province. Our photograph shows the body of a dead whale draped across the bulbous bow of a container ship taken in March and is only one of several such incidents reported by bulk tankers and freight vessels recently. Speaking to Handy Shipping Guide one merchant officer said today:

“Unfortunately this type of accident happens more often than people would imagine. Often the only way one knows that it has occurred is when the vessel’s performance figures are reviewed and the cause ascertained.”

Now, despite a long and ongoing campaign from ecological lobbyists such as Asha de Vos, Sri Lankan Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Development, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, has reportedly told local press that moving the shipping lane will not be contemplated as it might damage the viability of the new harbour at the Port of Hambantota (also known as Magampura Port). The Port is the second largest on the island behind Colombo and was specifically designed to serve the bunkerage needs and ships stores and supplies requirements of passing vessels. The Port is adjacent to the sea lane which sees ships of all descriptions passing between East Asia and all points west.

The area is seeing increasing competition for the myriad container ships and bulk tankers which pass through from the Arabian Sea to the Gulf of Bengal with India apparently now willing to reconsider the centuries old suggestion of a ‘Sub-continental Suez’ project which has already been dismissed several times, often on environmental grounds. The obvious route for such a project would be via the Gulf of Mannar, home to its own National Marine Park.

The original British proposal for such a ‘canal’ dates back to the mid 1800’s and has been suggested in several forms ever since. Despite the Court throwing out the suggestion in 2007 and subsequent investigations into a cutting passing through the southern tip of India itself, the matter was back in the Supreme Court this month when a report was submitted by the Energy Research Institute (TERI) saying that the original proposal via Mannar was the only viable option.

Whether the construction of the first ever navigable marine link between west and east India passing only through Indian territorial waters can ever prove acceptable in an area plagued by seismic activities and consequent Tsunami, and home to coral reefs containing a mass of protected flora and fauna, remains to be seen. The effect of dredging on the fragile reefs coupled with the likely throughput of millions of tonnes of crude oil carried annually by tankers saving valuable fuel may well mean this yet another proposal which has nowhere to go and prove to mean yet more bad news for the blue whales of the Indian Ocean.

Photo: Taken by Sopaka Karunasundera a Marine Pilot with the Sri Lanka Ports Authority