Govt. takes over ship, but at whose cost ?

| 11 January 2002 22:08 IST

M V River Princess, the controversial ship grounded off North Goa’s famous beachline for the last 19 months causing danger to Goa’s tourism, is finally being taken over as the state property.

The ship will be now refloated at government cost while its owner, M/s Salgaoncar Mining Industries Ltd, will ultimately benefit financially in spite of pushing the authorities into series of legal battles over its removal till date.

Getting grounded off hardly 500 metres away from Goa’s famous beachline of Candolim-Calangute-Baga, the wrecked up ship had caused serious concern due to danger of oil spill and nuisance to the swimmers at Sinquerim beach. There was also little oil spillage for a while, initially.

While owner of the ship Anil Salgaoncar, a powerful mine owner, took up a legal battle against every attempt of the state to remove the ship, the tenderers also backed out last minute from refloating it due to monsoons last year. The 26-meter long ore carrier had drifted away and grounded off Sinquerim on the night of 6 June 2000 as a result of stormy monsoon winds.

To overcome all the legal hurdles, the local BJP government then passed a new legislation – the Goa Tourist Places (Protection & Maintenance) Act. It empowers the tourism director to issue notice to any owner of such a floating object to remove it within 15 days or then take it over as the state property.

"It will be now tendered by the government for refloating and the cost will be recovered by auctioning the ship for a scrap value", states N Suryanarayana, the state tourism director, who has requested the chief secretary to initiate further action.

Interestingly, while the act makes a provision to recover the additional amount from the owner if the cost of removal exceeds the auction value, it also provides for returning the extra money earned out of auction if it exceeds the cost of removal.

Chief minister Manohar Parrikar admits that the auction value would be around Rs 12 to 14 crore while it would not cost more than Rs nine crore for removal. "We may think of some other penalties later", he claims, but admits that the ship owner may earn in this case.

Describing that the action of taking over the ship is actually a defeat of the government, Goa’s leading newspapers have also suspected internal pact while passing the legislation in such manner. The act also does not provide for any penal provision under which the owner could be punished for creating such kind of environmental hazard.

While the paper work of taking over the ship has just been finished, authorities still cannot state when the ship will be actually removed from the site. The tourism industry however hopes that the beach will be nuisance-free before the next season begins in October.

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