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September 02, 2010

Goa on slippery slope as mystery ship dumps oil


2 September 2010

Panaji: Thick and dark layers of oil being deposited with each lapping wave along the sun-kissed beaches of Goa could be another ill omen for the Goa tourism industry, which has seen a downswing over the last few years.

While the State Government has launched a hunt for a rogue ship that could have dumped its burnt oil into the sea, resulting in the slick and the subsequent pollution, Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) president Gaurish Dhond has his fingers crossed on the impact the incident may have on the tourist season, which begins in October.

“This should not have happened. Now, the news will spread nationally and internationally through the media. And then, television channels will descend in Goa, saying how bad things are. That cannot be good for tourism,” he said.

The TTAG has been the voice of tourism and travel industry stakeholders for the last few decades.

For nearly two days now, layers of tar balls — burnt oil emulsified by ocean currents — are being deposited along the beaches, known to attract nearly 2.5 million tourists annually. The sand on famous beaches like Calangute, Candolim, Colva and Velsao is covered with an acrid, oily layer, making it difficult to walk and leaving feet stained.

State authorities have begun a massive cleaning operation, hoping to control the problem. But they have no idea as to how long it’ll take to clean the beaches.

“We cannot say when the operation will be over as tar balls continue to float on the beaches even now,” tourism director Swapnil Naik said, adding that it was a seasonal phenomenon and that the tourism season would not be affected. According to marine experts, one of the common causes for the tar ball phenomenon is careless dumping of used oil by a passing ship.

The tourism industry in Goa is already suffering due to negative publicity over the last couple of years, starting with the Scarlett Keeling death case. Scarlett Keeling, a UK teen tourist, was allegedly drugged, sexually assaulted and left to die. Several other cases of crime against fair-skinned women have also ruined the State’s safe destination tag.

“We cannot stop such things. Tomorrow, there may be a rape case which we may not be able to stop,” Dhond said, adding that the State Government has taken all possible corrective steps.

Meanwhile, Environment Minister Aleixo Sequeira has said the Government would hunt down the rogue vessel responsible for the dumped oil.