CHENNAI: Four-months after three coastal villages bore the brunt of the Ennore oil spill, fishermen there now have to make do with vastly reduced livelihoods. Fearing contamination of local fish, their customers have gone to markets elsewhere and fishermen’s earnings have fallen to a fraction of what they used to be.
The cleanup crews finished clearing the seafront of the sludge from the oil spill, but for the people of Kasivishwanatha Kuppam, Kasivisalatchipuram and Periya Kasi Koil Kuppam, 25 km from Chennai, the effects of the oil spill are an everyday reality.
The people of these three villages converge at the Bharatiyar Nagar beach from where they set out to fish and sell their catch every morning. The beach was the impact epicentre of the Ennore oil spill on January 28, the result of a collision out at sea between two merchant carriers, MT Dawn Kancheepuram and the MT BW Maple.
As the blackish goo spread shorewards, the fishermen from Bharathiyar Nagar were the first to report the spill. Five months on, their bustling market on the beach has gone, with buyers reluctant to buy what they fear is contaminated by the spill.
There’s still a makeshift market on the Bharathiyar Nagar beach but fishermen wait in vain for customers. On a June morning, fifty-three-year-old Vijayalakshmi sits in the shack, fanning her catch of sankara fish spread in front of her.
Before the oil spill, she’d make Rs 6000 from her catch on a good day but sells less than a thousand a day now. At around 2 p.m, Vijayalakshmi can wait no longer and wraps up, placing the remnants in a red ice box.
Back then, at least 20 families from the three villages would hawk their catch on the Bharathiyar Nagar beach. But sales have dropped from Rs 80,000 per day to Rs 4000.
And one by one, the fishermen of the villages have taken to carting their catch to markets elsewhere.
“We are still forced to sell our catch at give-away prices at the Wimco market or the Kasimedu market,” said Anand Raj, a fisherman.
The fishermen had been enthusiastic participants in the cleanup, for their livelihoods were at stake after all. They had waded into the sludge, unshod and bare-chested, and scooped up the gob with bare hands.
Then the cleanup specialists from Sea Care Marine Services left, and the fisherman hoped things would go back to what they used to be. They never did, and the buyers never came back to Bharathiyar Nagar.
Anand Raj believes it was WhatsApp that did the damage. “Messages started spreading on WhatsApp about fish being contaminated after the oil spill. That is where our trouble began,” he says.
The 600 fishing families of Kasivishwanatha Kuppam, Kasivisalatchipuram and Periya Kasi Koil Kuppam, believe that their fish are not contaminated, and take pains to explain why.
“See,” says Anand Raj, “the oil was only on the surface. The fish are below. Only the surface got contaminated. The fish are good.” And then he adds, “We have been eating the fish we catch ever since the oil spill.”