On December 9, 2014, a cargo ship rammed an oil tanker in the Bangladeshi Sundarbans. 358,000 liters of heavy fuel oil spilled into the largest remaining unbroken stand of mangroves in the world—home to thousands of forest people, and endangered creatures like the Bengal tiger, river dolphins, and the masked finfoot.
A film of oil sloshed up and down the river with the tides while a black goo hugged the shores
Creatures unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity of the spill found themselves coated with this black viscous oil
In an alarming show of apathy the fisherfolk were forced to clean up the mess sans any protective gear. The thick black oil painted a black stripe on the mangrove shores, but here is where the hazard lay: fishermen from the village of Joymoni, which was most affected by the spill, were collecting the oil by hand.
Fishermen used their own kitchen utensils and boats to collect the oil, destroying their possessions in the process.
What was the worst in the oil-spill clean up, however, was the exposure of children who were at the forefront of the mopping and collecting of the viscous goo. This and the next photo: a young boy and a girl are covered in oil as they mop up the mangroves
In a no-no of clean up best practices, the fishermen trampled the oil deep into the mudflats. This was an unmonitored, unplanned, and ill-managed clean up effort where no one told the fishermen what to do, and what not to do
No masks were provided by the government for the fishers involved in the clean up effort. With the village burning oil in many nooks, the fishers complained of respiratory issues, nausea, stomach issues and sleeplessness.
No protective clothing was provided for the people. They collected the oil and filled it into barrels to be sold back to the state owned oil company
The oil was collected by the fishers and sent pack to the state owned oil company which paid the villagers a token sum per liter collected. In the end, this did not cover the loss of kitchen utensils, blackened nets, or boats. Much of the money was used to cover medical costs for respiratory issues, in many cases.
The terrible accident has changed nothing in the Sundarbans. Ships laden with hazardous cargo still ply through the forest rivers.
With coal powered thermal plants planned just a few kilometers from the head of the Sundarbans, the largest unbroken mangrove forest in the world is under threat. The locals believe that the government does not care enough about the forest, putting the port and thoughtless development projects ahead of it.