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Goa beaches polluted by dumped oil

An unidentified ship has dumped tons of waste oil into the sea off western India, creating tar balls that are washing up on Goa's popular beaches, officials said.

Indian navy and coastguard vessels were trying to trace the ship, which is believed to have dumped burnt oil about three days ago, said Aleixo Sequeira, the state's environment minister.

"If we are able to find the vessel, then action would be immediately initiated," he said but declined to say what that action would be.

Wave after wave of tar balls have been floating ashore on Goa beaches for two days, layering them with semi-solid oil lumps. Popular beaches such as Colva, Candolim and Calangute were badly hit.

Scores of civic workers used brooms to collect and clear the oily debris, but still more tar balls were washing ashore, said Swapnil Naik, Goa's top tourism official.

The beaches were not closed, but there were few visitors because the tourism season begins in October.

Ships regularly clean tanks and discharge the waste oil at sea, but this case involved careless dumping which exceeded all proportions, said scientists at India's National Institute of Oceanography, located in Goa.

"Crude oil mixes with water to form an emulsion that looks like chocolate pudding. Winds and waves continue to stretch and tear the oil patches into smaller pieces, or tar balls," said SR Shetye, who heads the institute.

Goa's tourism industry is worried that news of the pollution could put off visitors to one of the most sought-after and cheap beach destinations in India. Nearly 2.5 million tourists visit annually, including half a million foreigners, mostly from the UK, Israel and Russia.

"This should not have happened. It will not be good for tourism in Goa," said Gaurish Dhond, president of the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa.

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