DHAKA (AFP) – Bangladesh officials warned Thursday that an oil spill from a crashed tanker is threatening endangered dolphins and other wildlife in the massive Sundarbans mangrove region, branding the leak an ecological “catastrophe”.
The tanker carrying an estimated 350,000 litres of oil collided on Tuesday with another vessel and partly sank in the Sundarbans’ Shela river, home to rare Irrawaddy and Ganges dolphins.
Although officials are unsure how much oil has spilled, they warned the slick has spread to another river as well as a network of canals in the vast Sundarbans delta.
“The oil spill has spread over a 60 kilometre-long area in the Shela and Passur rivers,” Amir Hossain, chief forest official of the Sundarbans, told AFP.
“It’s a catastrophe for the delicate ecology of the Sundarbans. The oil spill has already blackened the shoreline, threatening trees, plankton, vast populations of small fishes and dolphins,” Hossain said.
“The symptoms of environmental damage will be visible soon as the water quality has already been damaged,” he added.
Authorities have launched a small-scale clean-up, but warned they lack the hardware and experience for a major effort. Navy boats and government officials were en route to salvage the tanker.
“We’ve not started any major clean-up efforts yet. In fact, the forest department doesn’t have the technology to deal with this kind of disaster,” said Hossain.