The leaked oil from the factory filled the air with a thick nauseating stench.
On Wednesday, a leak occurred in the pipeline carrying furnace oil to the boiler at Travancore Titanium Products Ltd (TTPL). This has caused an oil spill in the Arabian Sea along the Shanghumugham-Veli coast. On Thursday, the government ordered a probe and launched an emergency cleaning operation.
District collector, Navjot Khosa visited the affected areas. She placed a temporary ban on visits to the tourist spots and fishing activities for 2 days. Tourists are prohibited from entering Veli, Shanghumugham, and Vettucaud beaches.
The pipeline runs above the drainage line and hence the spilled oil flowed directly into the sea. About 5,000 liters of oil is speculated to have been leaked. The authorities said a portion of it, around 2,000 liters of oil, must have split into the sea.
High-pressure pumping caused excessive leakage following the pipe burst.
The oil leak was initially noticed by a group of fishermen on Wednesday. They immediately reported it to the company which plugged the leak.
Yet, the fishermen and local people alleged that the spill affected the marine life around the margin of the sea. Jerin Peter, a local, said, "the neglect on the part of TTPL was quite visible." He added that the fisher community is the worst affected. Peter also stated that many people complained of breathing problems.
The district authorities planned to shift people living near TTPL due to the suffocating and nauseating smell which filled the air.
Only after a directive from the Kerala State Pollution Control Board, TTLP stopped operations. KSPCB issued a letter to TTPL expressing strong objection to the company's failure to inform about the oil spill. KSPCB has instructed TTPL not to resume operations till containment, cleansing, and disposal measures are completed. The 75-year-old company will have to take statutory permission from KSPCB, the industries department, and the factories and boilers department to restart its operations.
On Thursday, the government sent a three-member panel to inquire into the mishap. They have managed to contain the flow by blocking the drainage line. The recovery of split oil has been initiated. Thick tar is formed on the beaches due to the sea waves washing ashore the oil. Sawdust is being sprayed over the tar. It is then scooped up and stored at TTPL to be disposed of scientifically. After being neutralized, it is likely to be disposed of at Kerala Enviro Infrastructure Ltd in Ernakulam. The company has so far removed 15 tonnes of the contaminated sand.
The response team is also connecting with technology firms to engage in machinery for the recovery of soil sediments. The damaged pipeline will soon be replaced.
A Coast Guard ship and an aircraft conducted surveillance over the coastal area after the oil spill. The officials of the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) visited the spill site and assessed the situation. District authorities have directed TTPL to remove the sand littered with oil on the beach from Vettucaud to Veli.
TTPL chairman, A R Rasheed said that the company will compensate the affected as per the government directive.
Around 26,000 liters of furnace oil is stored at TTPL. 12,000 liters are used daily to generate steam and for other burning purposes. Such an oil leak has been reported at the TTPL for the first time. The company has initiated an internal inquiry. TTPL extracts rich minerals from the sand. They manufacture titanium dioxide pigment from the limonite found abundantly along the south Kerala coast.