11.01.2015 -


Media Release


Joint United Nations / Government of Bangladesh Mission

18-31 December, 2014




The incident in the Shela river represents a serious oil spill accident in a wildlife sanctuary and world heritage site treasured for its unique biodiversity.

On December 9, an oil tanker accident in the Sundarbans of Bangladesh led to the release of approximately 350,000 litres of heavy fuel oil into the river and mangrove ecosystem. The responsible shipping company estimated that 68,000 litres had been recovered, based on payment records to local communities. The response to the accident was led by the Forest Department of the Ministry of Environment and Forests with the help of local communities. Concern about the potential impacts of the oil to the ecosystem and the communities that depend on it for their livelihoods, led the Government of Bangladesh on 15 December 2014 to request the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for technical assistance in assessing the impacts and supporting the response.

A Joint United Nations / Government of Bangladesh Sundarbans Oil Spill Response mission was subsequently formed, with the inclusion of 25 experts and officials from Government agencies, universities, the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination mechanism, UNDP, USAID, European Union Civil Protection Mechanism, France and the Wildlife Conservation Society. The objective of the mission was to strengthen the Government’s efforts in containing and cleaning up the oil spillage, as well as to provide support to assessing the situation and developing an action plan for a phased response and recovery. The team spent six days (22 – 27 December) in the affected area where site observations, interviews, aerial photography, sampling and other assessment techniques were used to evaluate the situation and develop recommendations.

Based on the mission’s observation, there is limited immediate environmental impact to the mangrove and aquatic ecosystems. The comendable effort by local communities and the Government of Bangladesh, particularly the Forest Department, as well as timely tidal variations and the decision to ban tanker traffic in the river, minimized the penetration of oil into the ecosystem. The main shorelines 40 km up- and downstream of the site shows varying degree of pollution. No visible impact on the mangrove forest floor due to the accident has been observed, and the initial acute impacts to wildlife from this spill appear to be limited in scope. When it comes to impact, the rapid assessment recommends further monitoring to conclusively determine the effect of the residual oil in the aquatic environment and its impacts on fisheries and livelihoods.

Bangladesh has a strong disaster management system and good preparedness for natural hazards. However, environmental emergencies like oil spills and industrial accidents represent a particular type of emergency and demand a specific approach. Moving forward, existing knowledge and solid disaster management experience can be used to strengthen the country’s preparedness for technological disasters. Training, equipment and experience will improve the response to environmental emergencies and minimize the impacts on local communities and ecosystems.

From an environmental perspective, traffic through the valued and biodiverse Sundarbans World Heritage Site should be avoided. While a number of factors limited the impact of the spill, the shipping of oil through a sensitive environment presents a serious risk to both the environment and the communities that depend on it for their livelihoods – appropriate safeguards and mitigation measures need to be put in place before opening the route to traffic.

The initial findings were presented to the Government on 31December 2014, with a first report ready by early January. The finalized report is scheduled to be published on 15 January 2015.

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