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Goa’s eyesore

River Princess: A ruined ship on the beaches of Goa is destroying tourism and the environment of the holiday spot. Shalini Singh reports.

india Updated: Apr 04, 2010 00:09 IST
Shalini Singh

If you’ve been to Goa — and who hasn’t? — chances are you’ve seen the River Princess (RP). It’s that beached whale of a ship that sits less than 500 m away from what used to be one of Goa’s most popular beaches: Candolim. Besides being an environment hazard, RP has been a stubborn eyesore for a decade now.

Repeated attempts over the years to float the 240 m long ship failed. Tenders were filed year on year with monotonous regularity, and mighty efforts were made, but the ship wouldn’t budge. The immovable object is finally going to meet its nemesis in the irresistible force of the cutter’s torch. The Goa government has decided to hack the River Princess and sell it as junk. Tenders have been floated for the job, and 12 bids had come in till March 29.

Candolim’s hotel and shack owners will be thrilled. Even though the beach houses two five-star resorts, the stretch facing RP is almost empty. Nobody wants to go there. The currents, thanks to the ship, made swimming in the area impossible. Water sports such as jet-skiing were also ruled out by the ship’s presence.

Environment wise, every year, 10 meters of the shoreline was lost because of forced currents. Siltation has eaten up one and a half kilometers of the nearby beach, according to the National Institute of Oceanography and an economic survey released in the Goa assemble last week. Sea life destruction apart, RP has caused 4-5 deaths in the past four years, says Calangute MLA Agnelo Fernandes. All the dead were people who tried to swim in that dangerous sea.

Eknath, a shack-owner blames the rusted vessel for loss in business. If advertently, the tourism department supports his claim — only five shacks could be put up in 2009-2010 in that area as compared to 13-15 in previous years. In rupees, a crore and a half has already been spent to salvage the vessel. Evidently, tenders and lawsuits don’t come cheap.

In the time it’s been there, the River Princess gathered stories around it. Opposition leaders said the vessel was a drug transit point. MLA Fernandes called it “a tiny tsunami waiting to happen”. The villagers of Candolim formed a River Princess Hatao Manch in 2008 and wrote to various officials, including chief minister Digambar Kamat. Nothing happened, until now.

One big fraud?

But let’s rewind a little. It all started in June 2000 when the ore carrier, abandoned by the Salgaocar Mining Industries, was washed up in a storm. The same year, an oil leak ruined the beach for a whole season.

That was just the beginning. Then on, the owner, Anil Salgaocar (also an independent MLA), washed his hands of the ship after the government prevented them from towing RP away. Ownership issues came up in court and two years passed in legal battle. The same handful of shipping companies that bid for removing it, gave up.

Even now, locals aren’t convinced the ship will finally go. Take ex-tourism minister Mathany Saldanha, who during his tenure in 2005 tried to remove the RP. Saldhana says that the ship is “one big fraud”. “It’s not an Indian vessel. The machines and fans have already been removed and sold as scrap. These fresh bids are just delaying tactics,” he says.

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