Indian Coast Guard conducts counter-pollution exercise; Sri Lanka, Bangladesh Coast Guard also participate
During the sea exercise, 13 ships and 10 aircraft from the Indian Coast Guard and one aircraft from IAF (C-131), two ships from SACEP members states -- Sri Lankan Coast Guard and Bangladesh Coast Guard -- and 1 OSV from ONGC, assets from SCI and tugs from Mormugao Port Trust demonstrated containment cum marine spill recovery by side sweeping arms, deployment of booms and skimmers, streaming of single ship operated containment cum recovery system, firefighting drill, rescue operation, and demonstration of surface and air oil spill dispersant systems
The Indian Coast Guard conducted the eighth edition of the National Level Pollution Response Exercise, codenamed NATPOLREX-VIII, on April 19-20 off Mormugao harbour in Goa. The event was attended by more than 85 participants from 50 agencies, which included 29 foreign observers from 22 foreign countries and international organizations and two Coast Guard ships from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Presently, as the third-largest importer of crude, India receives a large volume of oil through ships. India stands sixth in the world as a major chemical importer country. Both oil and chemicals, if spilled, pose inherent risks to the maritime zones of India and the connected coastlines housing a large coastal population, marine eco-system, industries and various installations along with supporting tourism industry. Preventive measures, by the central coordinating agency, ship owners, oil handling facilities and other concerned stakeholders are thus required to be taken to prepare for combating any likely marine spill.
NATPOLREX VIII aims at validating the procedures and guidelines as contained in the National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan (NOSDCP) at the national and regional levels under the aegis of SACEP MoU to which India is a member State. During the exercise, various components of NOSDCP were invoked to validate and improve the contingency plans and to evaluate preparedness of the resource agencies as well as the stake holders to meet any marine spill disaster at sea.
Battle against pollution
The exercise is coordinated by the Indian Coast Guard encompassing assets from resource agencies and stakeholders including ports, oil handling agencies (OHAS), coastal states/Union Territories and other resource agencies. The two-day exercise programme included a table-top exercise, a pollution response workshop on marine Oil and HNS spill followed by exercise at sea, which was reviewed by the Chairman of NOSDCP in the presence of national and international observers.
During the sea exercise, 13 ships and 10 aircraft from the Indian Coast Guard and one aircraft from IAF (C-131), two ships from SACEP members states -- Sri Lankan Coast Guard and Bangladesh Coast Guard -- and 1 OSV from ONGC, assets from SCI and tugs from Mormugao Port Trust demonstrated containment cum marine spill recovery by side sweeping arms, deployment of booms and skimmers, streaming of single ship operated containment cum recovery system, firefighting drill, rescue operation, and demonstration of surface and air oil spill dispersant systems.
The exercise comes at a time when there is an increase in maritime trade. Consequently, more and more vessels are handling oil and HNS in Indian ports to provide for the increased demands. NATPOLREX-VIII is a regional step in the right direction and enhances preparedness and response capability of all the stakeholders in combating marine spills.
Protecting marine ecosystem
Through NATPOLREX VIII, the Indian Coast Guard has again dedicated itself to the protection and preservation of marine ecosystem for our future generations. The DGICG thanked all the international observers, national stakeholders and participants for the constructive discussions providing momentum to strengthen cooperation in Marine Pollution Response and also for their presence despite challenges of pandemic and travel restrictions.
Besides, NATPOLREX, ICG is also concurrently, conducting capacity building professional training course in Marine Oil Response and Preparedness for 45 international participants from 18 countries including member states from the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) at Chennai from April 18 to 29.
The unique marine spill preparedness exercise was inaugurated by Dr. Ajay Kumar, Secretary, Ministry of Defense, in the presence of Dr. M Ravichandran, Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences, and senior officials from MoPSW, NDRF, IMD, Indian Navy and State Pollution Control Board, Goa.
Coast Guard role
The Director General of the Indian Coast Guard, V.S. Pathania, who is also the Chairman of NOSDCP and the Competent National Authority for marine pollution at sea for SACEP MoU in the Indian waters, said the ICG remains committed to understanding and addressing the threats to the region and its resources, including marine oil and chemical spill at sea. He said that as new vulnerabilities continue to emerge, the stakeholders must recognize the opportunity to enhance cooperation through stronger partnerships, effective coordination and exchange of best practices.
NATPOLREX VIII is being conducted congruent to marine pollution response training of 43 participants at Chennai from April 18 to 29, bilateral dialogue between Director General of Indian Coast Guard and Director-General SACEP (South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme) along with the participation of ships and representatives from SACEP member States and the Colombo Security Conclave at Mumbai on April 21-22 wherein a dedicated workshop for representatives of member States is being scheduled. SACEP was represented by its director, Dr. Md. Masumur Rahman.
(The author is a former spokesperson, Defence Ministry and Indian Army)