Even as a hit-and-run sea mishap continues to haunt Kerala, another similar tragedy has occurred in Kochi.
A fishing boat anchored at Puthuvype, off Kochi coast was hit by a Panama-registered cargo ship Amber L, on early Sunday morning killing two fishermen. One person went missing. According to the initial reports, the merchant vessel that was carrying fertilizer from Israel to China, lost track and collided with the fishing boat. The complete picture will only be revealed after the investigation by the Director General of Shipping and Coastal Police. The Mercantile Marine Department (MMD) demanded a scientific investigation in order to confirm that the ship hit the boat. Fort Kochi Coastal police have registered a case against the captain and the crew on charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The state government has also announced Rs two lakh as emergency relief for the families of the deceased.
The tragedies frequently occurring along the borders of Kerala has been increasingly worrying the fishermen. It is because of the experiences like escaping from the mishaps and if landed in trouble, getting entangled in a mess of complications related to the coastal area regulations, maritime boundaries and sea safety laws as well as their lack of transparency and the obstacles in getting justice due to the international and political interventions, all of which are equally challenging. The recent evidence was the incident in which Italian marines on board an oil tanker, Enrica Lexie shot dead two fishermen on January 24, 2012. Things turned in such a way that it was not the culprits who committed a crime that violated all maritime laws, but the victims who were hapless fishermen and the government who tracked them down who seemed in a fix. Therefore overcoming the tragedies have become a bigger test for the fishermen than battling the high waves for livelihood. Every day, over a thousand ships pass through the international shipping route that lies adjacent to Kerala’s maritime boundary. Given that the fishing boats from Kerala pass in the east-west direction across the shipping lane that is in the north-south direction, even a small violation of law will lead to major mishaps.
Such disasters occur due to the frequent violation of maritime laws by the ships equally pertinent to the fishing boats and cargo ships. A month after the shooting by Italian marines in 2012, a ship M V Prabhu Daya collided with a fishing boat and killed five persons near Alappuzha on March 1. The ships that sped away after the incident was later detained in Chennai. A foreign cargo ship rammed a boat Harshita in Kochi on the eighth of last January destroying the boat. Although another fishing boat rescued the people in danger averting a major loss of human lives, it led to huge loss of property. However, the foreign ship that caused the collision couldn’t be tracked down. There is no doubt that constant violation of navigation laws is the reason for such mishaps. However, each disaster proves the dearth of proper amenities to ensure the implementation of law. Even if the culprits are caught, the fact that the state and central government have several legal impediments before them, makes the issue more complex. The Centre as well as the states should carry out an immediate reanalysis on the matter.
It’s the duty of the state government to provide adequate security to the fishermen. Even though the government initiates several beneficial measures, there are complaints that it doesn’t take any steps to accomplish them. Although the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department distribute the latest equipment such radio beacon with GPS support, heliograph and radar reflector as well as light units and medications to avoid accidents, the authorities say that the services aren’t made use of properly. They cite instances of finding the distributed safety kits, dusty and still unopened, during inspections on the boat. But the fishermen who are unaware of the use of these facilities, dismiss them as useless. Even though training programs are held as mere rituals, only a few are able to take part. There should be moves on part of the authorities to create an awareness on the matter and to train the fishermen ensuring their participation alongside. Coastal police facilities should be utilised to ensure the safety of the boats venturing into deep sea for fishing and to tackle the violation of laws effectively. In Kerala where about 27, 000 boats go out into the sea for fishing, the related organisations say that an average of 54 people lose their lives in such accidents, annually. A combined effort by the Navy, coast guards and coastal police is required for ensuring the safety of the maritime territory that lies close to the shores of Kerala, one of the most bustling coastal zones in the world. The territory of the state government lies to 12 nautical miles from the coast while that of the Centre comes to 200 nautical miles. Therefore the state government and the Centre should collectively take the necessary safety measures and ensure severe punishment to those who violate law and play with human lives. No delay or reluctance should be shown in ensuring for a route of safety for the fishermen.