Barge-Ship Collison Spills Oil off India's Tourist Coast

By Frederick Noronha

GOA, India, March 23, 2005 (ENS) - Indian Coast Guard and other officials in the western tourist region of Goa are struggling to cope with a large oil spill that leaked into the sea after a pre-dawn collision. The slick now extends over an area 3.3 by 1.5 nautical miles off the beaches of this holiday destination.

At one o'clock Wednesday morning, the barge Practi, belonging to the family of a local politician, slammed into the 73,000 ton Singapore flagged cargo ship Maritime Wisdom, that had been loading iron ore since mid-March in Goa's outer harbor for transport to China.

The collision occurred four nautical miles off Candolim-Sinquerim beach, which is visited by tens of thousands of European charter tourists, and is also home to the Goa's first five star hotel, the Taj Aguada.

Officials said the accident happened while the barge was coming alongside the ore carrier. While maneuvering, it collided with the side of the vessel where the fuel tanks were located.

Indian Coast Guard officials said they managed to plug the oil leak by four this morning but not before an estimated 110 metric tons of heavy fuel oil spilled into the sea.

beach

Candolim beach on the Goa coast could be impacted by the spill. (Photo courtesy Goa.com)
In the state capital Panaji, officials had an emergency meeting with police, fire, pollution and other officials to assess the situation and its possible impact. There were no slicks on shore late Wednesday evening, and officials in Panaji say they expect the oil to move southwards down the coast.

The spill now appears to be breaking into two to three patches. Officials said it had travelled about eight miles south in the last 16 hours, heading towards Cabo de Rama, one of Goa's southernmost beaches, just north of its interstate border with Karnataka.

Still, officials say there could be some impact on Goa's environment. Environmental campaigners have called for a cautious approach in dealing with the problem, as these areas are also the region's fishing zone.

The Coast Guard said they visited the spill at eight this morning to assess the damage, and by early afternoon were flying sorties to disperse the oil with chemicals. Over a thousand liters of dispersants have been used.

So far, they have been unable to use booms to trap the spilled oil, because of a high ocean swell in the area, Indian Coast Guard Commandant L.H. Sharma told journalists in Goa.

The Coast Guard is counting on an advanced patrol vessel to arrive Thursday to help with specialized skimming operations. Dornier aircrafts, which have been pressed in operation, can only fly until sundown, after which the vessels are expected to go into action.

Environmentalists say chemical dispersants create their own problems. "Before using dispersants, it's better to use booms first to try and control the slick," said environmental campaigner Anthony Simoes, who lives in the Candolim area.

"Since these are our fishing gounds, we need to be more careful. Chemicals create their own compounds and more complex chains, so dispersants should be carefully used," said Simoes.

"In these pre-monsoon months, the winds and currents are already coming to our coast. Anything dumped here is likely to be brought to the coast," cautioned Simoes, a cost-engineer who has been involved in a number of green campaigns over the past decade.

Goa is a major exporter of iron ore, and sends out up to half of all of India's ore exports, despite being the smallest state in India. The country has a longstanding policy against exporting iron ore, but Goa has a different approach, as the rulers of this former Portuguese colony have encouraged exports of ore for the past 50 years.