Gargi Verma, Mumbai Mirror, October 10 2017
The villagers also alleged that the pollution called by the blaze, which, the officials claimed, is under control now even though thick columns of smoke continue to billow out from the oil tank, has affected the marine life in the region.
The claims came on a day the Union ministry of petroleum and natural gas started an investigation in the blaze fire that has gutted one tank of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) at the Mumbai Port Trust owned oil terminal at Butcher Island.
The fire is said to have broken out because of lightning on Friday when Mumbai witnessed sudden showers.
“The rain that we received on Sunday was different. The water was granular. When we collected rain water in bowls and other containers, we couldn’t believe our eyes, it was black,” said vegetable vendor Asha Koli, a resident of Uran.
“The water was black in colour. But when we washed our hands with it, it didn’t leave any stain,” agreed Vinita Koli, a vegetable vendor who grows some of her sales at home.
Worried the rain was not “natural”, some villagers ran out to protect tomatoes and lemons that they grow in small patches of land outside their houses. The fishing community in and around Uran believes that the fire and the huge amount of smoke that it generated has affected aquatic life.
Annapurna, who has been selling fish with her father and brother for years now, said, “As it is, the catch was less this year. But this fire and the pollution further shrunk it.”
They also rued that the fire blocked one of the routes used by the fishermen. “There’s no traffic around the taanki (the tank that has caught fire). No boats are allowed in that direction. The fire hasn’t stopped raging in days and the smoke even keeps the birds at bay,” said 40-year-old Ravindra Koli, a resident of More village.
Environmentalists are monitoring the situation with concern. “The black rain was actually soot mixed with rain water. This made the rain water impure. There can be health risks if any toxic fumes were present,” said Debi Goenka, a renowned environmentalist. According to Goenka, the agencies involved in fire-fighting operation neither have the machinery nor the understanding of containing the fire.
“They have now left it to burn out on itself. But till then, the amount of particulate matter we are throwing in the skies is crazy,” he added.
Commenting about the cause of fire and the position of the tanks, he said, “The lightning struck only on one tower and this is the situation, what if more than one tank was affected? Do they have no safety measures in place to prevent such an incident? And what if this happens in tankers in the city? There has to be a better alternative in place.”
Meanwhile, BPCL’s executive director (refineries) Manohar Rao said that officers of the Oil Industry Safety Directorate came to Mumbai on Saturday and began investigations into the blaze.
“They have been visiting the site since Saturday, but they have to inspect the tank. The fire is still raging, with the flames reaching up to oneand-a-half feet. There is a lot of smoke. We don’t know when it will be completely doused. The tank had 30,000 kilo litres of high-speed diesel. More than half of it was drained out,” said Rao.
He further said that each tank costs Rs 25 crore and the insurance team inspected the damages on Monday. “But they also want to inspect the tank but can’t do so till the fire is completely doused,” Rao said.
At present, the sludge is burning. Asked if more safety measures will be taken, Rao said that it will depend on the recommendations of the directorate.
Jawahar Dweep is a hub where tankers carrying crude from the Gulf dispatch oil to refineries in Mahul. As of now, the entire area is cordoned off and no tanker is being allowed to venture near the area.
“Tankers are only sent to the nearby Pir Pau jetty. But there will be no shortage of fuel in Mumbai,” said Rao.
Sanjay Bhatia, chairperson of MbPT, said that they would check the fire apparatus and other tanks. “The checking will be done we reopen the Butcher Island jetty for ships after the fire is doused. The cleaning of the island area was done on Monday,” he added.