Ship hits reef off Lakshadweep

A cargo ship ran into a coral reef off the Kavaratti Island in Lakshadweep, damaging around 400 square metres of the pristine reef that’s home to thousands of marine species.

The latest environmental damage on Sunday came eight days after two container vessels collided off Mumbai and caused an oil spill and serious damage to the mangroves and marine life.

Coast Guard officials said the 78-metre-long cargo vessel, Nand Aparajita, was still lying on the eastern side of the island near the solar plant. The coral reefs around Kavaratti Island are the second largest collection of reefs in Indian waters after those off the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

There was no oil spill right now but the ship was “dangerously perched on the reef”, a Coast guard official said. “We cannot rule out an oil spill in the coming days. The vessel was hired by a transport operator to ferry cement. The rescue operation carried out by local police and the Coast Guard has been delayed because of bad weather but all the crew members are safe,” he added.

The reefs off Lakshadweep are known to be among the best in the world and host several endangered species. The accident site is a nesting area for endangered green sea turtles, the hawksbill turtle and the olive ridley turtles, said Deepak Apte of the Bombay Natural History Society.

Apte said the area also hosted whales, sharks, porpoises and dolphins. “These reefs have over 150 species of coral, 600 species of mollusc, 1000 species of fish, 150 species of marine algae and a plethora of flora and fauna.

BNHS has recorded over 40 new species from this area. The ship owners should be made to compensate for this extensive damage to the rich natural resources of the country.”

Marine scientists at BNHS, who have been working in Lakshadweep, say an initial asssement shows the eastern side of the island, where the ship has grounded, is an “excellent coral reef-rich area”. “Even if there is no oil spill, the grounding itself will cost extensive damage to the reef and the damaged area can extend upto 400 sqaure metres,” a BNHS official said.