Grounded ship worries tourism

| 19 September 2000 23:01 IST

A fortnight has passed and a bomb is still ticking right on the shore of Goa, the most favoured international tourist destination, in the form of a grounded ship from which oil continues to spread in the sea, though not intensely as in the past.

"I know that the whole tourism industry is at stake due to the ship", says chief secretary Ashok Nath, who is also the state tourism secretary, but appears to be cool about the ongoing operation of oil removal without the concerned government agencies monitoring it.

With Salgaoncar Shipping, the owners of 240-metre long ore carrier, not allowing the Coast Guard to be present on the ship, the official central co-ordinating authority has withdrawn from the scene. "We don't know what's going on at the ship", says Comdt V S R Murthy, Commander of Coast Guard.

"There is no work going on for the last two days", says S V Balaram, president of Travel and Tourism Association of Goa, who personally visited the Sinquerim-Calangute-Baga stretch, which is considered to be the hub of Goa's beach tourism.

Even Nath does not know details of the operation, except that he has been informed that oil is being removed. While Anil Salgaoncar, the ship owner, is not available to seek details, media persons are also not allowed to go near the ship, which is grounded hardly 100 metres from the shore.

According to Nath, journalists can definitely have a look but not allowed to take photographs since it would simply create panic among the tourists planning to visit Goa. He however does not even know when the oil removal operation would be complete.

Salgaoncar's claim that the ship does not contain more than 20 tonnes of oil has already been proved false with one tank itself found with over 20 tonnes of oil. Comdt Murthy however claims that there are three more tanks on the ship with fast speed diesel and fuel furnace oil.

In spite of the Coast Guard being the central co-ordinating authority to monitor the situations of the oil spills in Indian seas, Nath feels it is wrong on the part of the owner not to allow them on board the ship to monitor the operation. However, he plans to convene a joint meeting only next week, after the mercantile marine wing of the MoST arrives here from Mumbai.

The most unfortunate thing however is that the Coast Guard has also removed the river booms they had put around the ship to contain the oil spill since they were not allowed to remain on the ship. This has obviously let the oil-stained water spilling out from the ruptured bottom of the ship.

While oil removal is one issue being tackled in a most unorganised manner, the TTAG is equally worried about the owner's plan to break the huge ship right on the shore. "If it happens, it would simply prove doom for Goan tourism at least for one year", quips Kirit Maganlal, a travel agent.

While pursuing the issue with the state authorities, the TTAG on behalf of the hoteliers, shack owners, travel agents, transporters and all those dependent on the hospitality industry is planning to move to the court with a public interest litigation.

In spite of fully knowing that these things would adversely affect prospects of the just-begun tourism season, the state authorities appear to be cool about the ship owner's casual approach, for the best reason known to the ruling politicians, some of whom are reportedly overfriendly with the powerful mine owner.

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