River Princess may break...

| 16 February 2001 22:55 IST

M V River Princess, the 266 metre-long ore carrier that has grounded off Sinquerim coast in North Goa with a ruptured bottom, has become real matter of concern now since no actual moves to tow it away are visible even after eight months.

Hardly three months are remaining for the monsoons to arrive while expert reports indicate that the ship is bound to break during the forthcoming monsoon, making the local fishermen as well as tourists victims of the ecological disaster it would create.

Though the oil spillage has stopped after almost 40 tonnes of oil was removed from the ship in September, the officials cannot state confidently that no more oil has remained on the ship. The Coast Guard however still suspects around 15 tonnes of leftover.

The ship lies grounded hardly 100 metres away from the famous beachline from Sinquerim to Baga, which also includes the world-famous beach of Calangute - the heart of beach tourism in the coastal state.

After getting into a legal battle with M/s Salgaoncar Mining Industries Ltd, the ship owner, the North Goa district magistrate has started preparing itself to float global tenders for refloating and towing the ship away to the nearest ship-breaking dockyard.

The magistrate order was challenged by Anil Salgaoncar, Goa's politically powerful mine owner, in the district court which was ultimately dismissed. Salgaoncar has now challenged the dismissal order in the high court on technical grounds like evidence, time period given for replies and jurisdiction etc.

On the other hand, the Goa State Pollution Control Board issued notice to the ship owner under section 33A of Water (Protection and Prevention of Pollution) Act, 1974 only on 13 February with a three-day deadline to remove the ship. The follow-up action is still awaited.

While this order may also go into another legal battle, authorities here wonder whether the actual work to refloat and tow away the ship would be completed before monsoons reach here in the first week of June.

In a criminal petition filed by the district magistrate before the Panaji chief judicial magistrate, the government has clearly stated that the vessel is fast deteriorating and is bound to break during the forthcoming monsoons, after which it would be impossible to refloat or tow it away.

The petition also states that if the ship breaks or tilts before it is towed away, the breaking operations shall have to be undertaken near the beach itself. This would result in serious danger to the ecology and environment for the entire coastal belt, it adds.

Though it is a fact that real firm action against Salgoancars has begun only after chief minister Manohar Parrikar took over the reins of the first BJP government formed on 24 October, the concerned officials admit in private that much more political will is required to avoid the probable disaster.

The report of the National Institute of Oceanography has already stated that the oil has hampered the marine life, while expressing concern over further deterioration of the sea water, making it difficult to fish as well as swim or carry out any kind of water sports activity.

Several star resorts as well as hotels and rent-back facility rooms available in Goa are situated all along the coastline in this area from Sinquerim to Baga. If no action is initiated on warfooting, doomsday for the tourism industry appears to be inevitable.

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