Goa’s underwater relics under threat: Marine scientists

Friday, June 4, 2010

PANAJI - A combination of scuba gear equipped treasure hunters and government apathy is gnawing away at Goa’s underwater heritage, according to scientists from the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), a central marine research institute.

NIO scientists, who have discovered three centuries-old shipwrecks in the seas off Goa, have warned that amateur treasure seekers were whittling away precious treasures from the relics, which have settled at the sea bottom for ages now.

“Boilers, furnace bricks, flanges, broken copper pipes and tubes have been found scattered. A triple-expansion type, is reasonably well preserved, but local divers have despoiled the wreck in the recent past. They have also removed copper alloys, and other saleable items,” Sila Tripathi, one of NIO’s lead researchers, told IANS while speaking about one of the shipwrecks.

In the last decade, the Goa-based NIO has discovered and explored three wrecks, which includes a 17th century merchant ship, known to be the oldest underwater wreck traced in the seas off India.

The NIO has also discovered two other vessels, a Basel Mission Company ship and a merchant ship, that had hit rock bottom in the waters off Goa, which was a part of a popular maritime route during the heyday of colonialism.

Treasure hunters apart, the relics are also threatened by callous fishermen who also damage the underwater heritage.

“There is a need to educate the local fishing community, about the value of this stuff. Whenever a trawler, hauls an anchor instead in its net, the fishermen should inform the authorities. This will help us greatly,” said K.H. Vora, a project leader of NIO’s marine scientist team.

Apart from these hazards, NIO officials are also worried about apathy from the government vis-a-vis storage of maritime records and lack of enthusiasm on its part to translate the existing maritime movement records from Portuguese to English, proving to be a handicap for research.

“The government would be doing us a great favour if they would systematically organise the archives and also help translate the records,” Vora said.

The state archives located in Panaji contains records right from Portuguese days dating back 450 years. However these are poorly organised and sifting through is a tedious task.

“Private translators are way too expensive for the NIO to afford. Costs of translations run into almost Rs.1,000 per page. We would be very happy if any translator could come forward and help us out for a lesser price, knowing that he/she is contributing to the state’s and the nation’s heritage,” Vora said.

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