Tourism hit without oil spill

| 15 November 2000 22:29 IST

River Princess, the ship grounded near the Goa beach, continues to hound upon the tourism industry here, though oil spill has stopped a month ago, affecting the market tremendously in North Goa.

While hoteliers claim that the famous Candolim-Calangute-Baga beach is all clean with no oil patches visible anywhere around the ship, the state authorities are not still coming forward with a clear picture.

"We will conduct fresh inspection this week", informs North Goa Collector Sanjiv Khirwar, the nodal authority appointed by the erstwhile coalition government led by Francisco Sardinha for removing oil from the ship.

The Coast Guard, who is the central co-ordinating authority in case of such oil spills, has officially pulled out of this issue over a month ago as Sardinha, in collusion with the ship owner Anil Salgaonkar, allegedly sidelined them completely.

Manohar Parrikar, who has taken over as the chief minister of the BJP government on 24 October after withdrawing their support to Sardinha's coalition, now promises to review the whole issue while also pursuing a criminal case of public nuisance and danger to life and property filed against Salgaonkar.

The 266 metre long ore carrier, which was anchored near Vasco harbour two years ago without being registered or insured, got drifted away towards Candolim on the night of 6 June with rough stormy monsoon winds and got grounded hardly 100 metres away from the beachline with a ruptured bottom.

While the state authorities as well as Salgaonkar preferred to sit with their fingers crossed over it for three months, the Coast Guard witnessed the oil spilling out from 5 September. Instead of putting in efforts wholeheartedly, the authorities allowed the owner to remove the oil in a very secretive manner, without even allowing the Coast Guard to monitor it.

"It is not possible to remove the oil completely, but we can only minimise the effect", says Khirwar, informing that around 40 tonnes of oil was removed. With the engine room filled with water, the coast guard suspects that at least around 15 tonnes should be left over.

"There has been no oil spin witnessed for almost a month now", confirms V S R Murthy, the Coast Guard commandant, who however also states that the condition of the ship is deteriorating fast as it has developed a big hole on the starboard side.

"I don't think tourists should get panic as the oil spill is totally under control", says Khirwar, flaying the fears expressed by several hoteliers along the belt that foreigners are either cancelling their bookings or shifting to South Goa.

According to the Travel and Tourism Association, no bookings of charter flights or otherwise are cancelled. "But our main worry is whether the government plans to toe it away or break it on the shore after the season gets over in April", says S V Balaram, president of the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa.

Information reveals that toeing the ship away would cost not less than Rs 10 crore while breaking it on the shore could cost half of it. While the decision is now left to the authorities, the officials wonder whether the debt-ridden state is in a position to shell out such a big amount.

"It will spell doom for the hoteliers as well as the shack owners along the beach if they cut it there itself", says Balaram, fearing that the next season may witness a black beach if 30,000 tonnes of steel is welded and cut on the shore.

The reaction of the western countries like UK, Germany, Finland etc in this regard however would be known only after the delegates gone to attend the World Trade Mart in London arrive here by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, with the alleged nexus between the ship owner and the erstwhile government being broken now with a fall of the coalition government, it has to be seen whether the new BJP government takes up a challenge to save the tourism industry, for the next season.

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