18 August 2013, New Delhi – An Indian ship detained by Iran has been accused of causing an oil slick over a stretch of 10 miles in the Persian Gulf, and may have to pay up to $1 million as fine to the Islamic republic.
Iran on Friday accused the Shipping Corporation of India’s (SCI) oil tanker MT Desh Shanti of causing “widespread pollution”. Tehran claimed that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps had detained the ship following an alert issued by a regional body set up by Iran and seven other Persian Gulf littoral states to keep tab on oil and natural gas spills and check marine pollution.
The SCI, however, denied the allegation and claimed that the tanker, which is just nine years old, was not involved in any activity that could cause pollution in the Persian Gulf.
The Marine Emergency Mutual Aid Centre (MEMAC) claimed to have found MT Desh Shanti releasing its oily ballast water in the Persian Gulf about 30 miles away from Lavan Island of Iran on July 30. The MEMAC, which has its headquarters at Bahrain’s capital Manama, immediately alerted Tehran, as the oil slick stretched over 10 miles, close to the coast of the Islamic republic.
Similar alerts were also issued to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar subsequently, amid fears that the oil slick might move to the waters of other nearby countries too.
SCI officials, however, claimed that MT Desh Shanti could not have caused an oil slick on July 30 as it was not carrying crude that day.
The Iranian Navy detained the ship on August 13, when it was on its way to India with 1,40,000 tonnes of crude oil from Iraq for Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited.
Iran’s naval personnel boarded the tanker and coerced its crew to move it to the territorial waters of Iran.
Though hectic diplomatic contacts were on between New Delhi and Tehran over the past three days, the ship continued to be detained at the Bandar Abbas Port of Iran.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyed Abbas Araqchi told journalists in Tehran on Friday that MT Desh Shanti had been detained as it caused “widespread pollution in the Persian Gulf”. “We needed to detain the ship for investigation under international regulations,” he was quoted as saying by news agencies of Iran. The Islamic republic must be indemnified in accordance with law if it is proved that the vessel has caused pollution, he added.
Iran may demand up to $1 million as fine from the Shipping Corporation of India.
The MEMAC is understood to be pushing Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, as they were “potentially affected” by the oil slick the ship has been accused of causing.
Officials of the Ministry of Shipping told journalists in New Delhi that maritime authorities and international surveyors had inspected the ship, built in 2004.
The Embassy of Iran in New Delhi too stated that ship was detained “only because of the warning issued by the MEMAC, which is affiliated to the Regional Organisation for Protection of Maritime Environment in the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea”.
“This is purely a technical and non-political issue, and the officials of the shipping authorities of the two countries are engaged in constructive and positive interaction to resolve it according to the international law as soon as possible,” said Hasan Rahimi, spokesman of the Iranian Embassy in New Delhi. The ship has been detained at a time when New Delhi is trying to lessen its dependence on crude oil imports from Iran in the wake of sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union, and is looking for additional supply from Iraq.
India cut down import of crude oil from Iran from 18.1 million metric tons in 2011-12 to 13.3 million metric tons in 2012-13. Iraq, on the other hand, has of late emerged as the second-largest source of crude oil for India. India imported 24 million metric tons of crude oil from Iraq in 2012-13.