Tonnes of slimy tar balls continued to pollute the Goa coastline, even as state authorities started an extensive operation, albeit belatedly, to clean the beaches, known for attracting nearly 2 million tourists to the state.
Speaking to reporters, state director for tourism Swapnil Naik said the cleaning operation had begun and he had no idea when it would end.
"The tar balls are still surfacing from the sea. Because of the high tide they are still getting washed ashore," Naik said, adding that Velsao beach located nearly 35 km from Panaji was one of the most affected beaches, as the tar balls had gathered at least a foot thick along the beach. The tar balls are due to an oil spill somewhere in the seas off Goa.
Naik however said the 'invasion' of tar balls would not affect the tourist season. "The season will begin as scheduled in October," Naik said.
Eyewitnesses said it was virtually impossible to walk on the beaches, without staining your feet.
"The mass of tar balls is like a huge ugly rock spreading across Velsao beach," said Stuart D'Souza, a local.
Tourism Minister Nilkanth Halarnkar and state Environment Minister Aleixo Sequeira visited the affected beaches on Tuesday, 12 hours after the tar balls first started floating onto the beaches on Monday evening.
"A tourism department team had visited the beaches yesterday and had submitted a report after which the beach management agency, which is currently providing lifeguards, started the clean up operation," a tourism department official said.
Officials from Drishti Response Services, the beach management agency, said that tar balls continued to swamp the south Goa beaches.
"We don't have specialised gadgets to clean up beaches. We have put labourers who are using brooms to clear the balls (tar) and dump them ashore," a beach management agency official said. "The debris will be taken care of by the local authorities," he said.
According to the Goa-based National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), a marine research organisation, one of the common causes for such a slick is dumping of oil overboard by a passing ship
"After a spill, initially, the lighter components of the oil evaporate much like a small gasoline spill. In the cases of heavier types of oil, such as crude oil, much of the oil remains behind. At the same time, some crude oils mix with water to form an emulsion that often looks like chocolate pudding. This emulsion is much thicker and stickier than the original oil. Winds and waves continue to stretch and tear the oil patches into smaller pieces, or tar balls. While some tar balls may be as large as 30 cm in diameter, most are coin-sized or a bit bigger," NIO officials said.