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An Indian Navy helicopter performs rescue operations as merchant ship MV Rak sinks in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Mumbai August 4. Navy and coast guard helicopters and ships have rescued the 30-member crew from the sinking ship that was traveling from Indonesia to Gujarat. (AP Photo/India Defense Ministry, HO)

Images: Mumbai haunted by mystery ships

For the last few months walkers on Mumbai’s Juhu Beach have been treated to surreal visions of ships out of water. While they no doubt draw crowds of curious onlookers, the presence of these vagabond vessels has raised questions about environmental safety and coastal security. August 7, 2010, an oil spill from the collision of two ships, one of which bore a Panamanian flag, washed up on Mumbai’s coastline, causing damage to the coastal mangrove belt, contaminating the shore and threatening the livelihood of fisherfolk in the region. One of the vessels bore a Panamanian flag. Ten months later MV Wisdom, bearing a Singapore flag, ran aground at Juhu Beach and became something of a tourist attraction until it was removed many days later. June 30, the unmanned MV Pavit drifted into Mumbai mysteriously and ran aground off Versova. Last week, in the third such incident in three months, the Panamanian cargo vessel MV Rak capsized and sank off the Mumbai coast. Are these stray, unconnected incidents? Or do they point to a failure on the part of the Coast Guard to police our waters effectively? While the threat to marine environment and fisheries industry looms large, one cannot forget that the terrorists who carried out the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai arrived by boat. Or that just last week, the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) report pointed out vulnerable gaps in India’s coastal security. The question remains unanswered: What are these ships doing here?