Goa beaches, a homing beacon for tourists and ailing ships

Panaji, June 26 (IANS) Hordes of tourists apart, the beaches of Goa, one of India's top tourism destinations, appear to be serving as a homing beacon for ships suffering from all states of disrepair.

Come monsoon, tankers, trans-shippers, barges, tug boats or even the container-carrying trans-oceanic ships have over the years made their way -- some threatened to - to Goa, as if some kind of fatal attraction pulled them to the Luso-influenced tropical paradise.

The latest case in point is the MOL Comfort, a 300 mt plus container ship carrying over 4,500 containers sailing from Singapore to Jeddah, which broke into two about 500 km off Goa.

According to Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, the ship was slowly drifting towards Goa's coast at the rate of five km an hour and so were its containers, now bobbing in the ocean.

"It's not just the ship, there are these hundreds of containers which are also bobbing in the water and floating towards the Goa shore. At five km an hour it could take five days to reach Goa. But thankfully efforts are being made to tow the ship away," Parrikar said Tuesday, minutes after he learnt of the mid-sea tragedy.

The ship, he said, quoting unconfirmed sources, was carrying arms intended for Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad, in the containers which were now drifting towards Goa. It almost appeared that Parrikar was quoting a Hollywood-style Armageddon-genre plot.

The chief minister also expressed surprise at the fact that this was the second alarm in recent times for Goa, as far as floating-ship cautions were concerned.

Earlier this month, he had cautioned Goans about MV Pratibha Bhima, a 274 mt long crude oil tanker, which he said was allegedly owned by a central minister that was lying stranded nine nautical miles off Goa.

"I have ordered the collector to attach it under section 35 of the Disaster Management Act," Parrikar said, adding that the director general of shipping was too "scared to taken any action".

The ship eventually was towed off and the danger averted, especially as the churning seas and strong winds during the monsoons even lifts the vessel's anchor and drifts it shoreward.

One of the longest trysts that a ship has had with Goa's shore was when MV River Princess, a trans-shipper owned by a mining company beached at a sand bar on a stormy night off Sinquerim, 15 km from here, in 2000.

Over the years, while the massive trans-shipper even became a great photo backdrop for tourists visiting Sinquerim beach, its presence was cited as a key reason for massive sea erosion along the Sinquerim and Candolim beaches.

The MV River Princess saw seven government regime changes during the time it was beached here, and was eventually salvaged last year.

The salvaging firm has been now accused of cutting and shipping out only the visible portions of the vessel and not the base, which is still embedded below water-level.

MV River Princess may hold the record for being stranded for the longest time. But it was MV Sea Transporter, which in 1994 beached perilously close to the Fort Aguada Beach resort, also in Sinquerim, creating a first of its kind incident.

Urgent fire-fighting and lobbying by the hotel authorities forced the state government to tow and salvage the vessel before it caused serious damage to the hotel, located in a heritage fort and the beach nearby.

Apart from these major vessels, an occasional barge or tug boat have also hit Goa's beaches, only to be hauled away, before they caused considerable ecological damage or social heartaches.

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