Booms removed, oil spills from the ship

| 15 September 2000 23:02 IST

The oil has started spilling out once again from 'River Princess', the grounded ship off Sinquerim coast in North Goa, as the vertical wall of river booms erected around the wrecked ship is suddenly being removed from the scene.

The spilled oil has already spread around 200 metres southwards from the ship, report from the Coast Guard states. A local newspaper has also reported that the fish sold in Mapusa market (taluka town of coastal North) was seen oil patches on it.

Though Comdt V S R Murthy confirms that the booms, which worked effectively to contain the oil spillage, were removed by the Coast Guard, he is tight-lipped over the reason for its sudden removal.

The operation of pumping out oil from the tanks in the flooded engine room in the meanwhile is still on. Till date, only 19 tonnes of fuel furnace oil is being removed, states North Goa collector Sanjiv Khirwar, the nodal officer appointed by the state government for the whole operation.

According to Comdt Murthy, there could be more oil in the tank while there are three more tanks on the ship, including two containing high speed diesel. Anil Salgaoncar, the owner of the ship, had however claimed that the ship did not contain over 20 tonnes of oil.

While the fear of spreading the oil from the ruptured bottom of the ship is still not ruled out, the mystery of removing the booms has posed a real danger in terms of marine pollution as well as the tourist season, which slowly starts picking up from mid-September.

Khirwar claims that booms might have been removed because they were kept ready as a part of contingency plan. "Since the oil leak has been plugged successfully, booms are not necessary now", he adds, expressing total ignorance over the ruptured bottom of the ship.

He however admits receiving a letter from the Coast Guard, informing the state authorities about the oil spillage visible in a distance of 200 metres while urging them to take immediate action for containment of spillage and danger posed to the marine environment.

In a letter, copies of which are also sent to all the concerned agencies including chief minister Francisco Sardinha as well as Salgaoncar, the Coast Guard has brought to their notice that they (the Coast Guard) are central co-ordinating agency as per the National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan worked out by the centre.

"We appreciate that they have begun operation to remove the oil, but wonder why it is not co-ordinated with the Coast Guard when we are ultimately responsible for controlling the marine pollution", says Comdt Murthy.

Though Comdt Murthy has suddenly become silent over the whole issue of the oil spillage unlike in the past, sources in the government reveal that the Coast Guard has withdrawn from the ship for all practical purposes since they are being sidelined.

There are also reports that two cracks, around three to five metre long, are visible on the starboard side of the ship, which could prove fatal for the surrounding since the ship is grounded hardly 100 metres away from the Sinquerim-Calangute-Baga stretch, the hub of Goa's famous beach tourism.

The government is yet to decide whether to salvage the ship or not while the Coast Guard has ruled out long ago towing away the 240-metre long ore carrier, which is weather-beaten after facing strong currents since 6 June.

"It is a very big operation we have to decide about", says Khirwar, after making the ship free of any oil. But environmentalists fear that the operation may also affect the marine environment adversely if a similar casual approach is adopted towards the salvage operation.

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