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i-maritime News service

Small fishing vessels: Enhancing safety at sea - 2012-03-12

The hit-and-run incident on the sea off Kerala coast last week in which three fishermen were killed, has raised the issues of safety at sea of small fishing vessels.According to maritime officials, vessel traffic in the international shipping channel off the west coast of India has increased in the recent past. This is mainly because ships now chose sail as far as close to the Indian coast to avoid piracy-prone area. Besides, in the event of them being attacked, help in the form of Indian Navy or Coast Guard could reach/rescue them much faster given the shorter distance from the shore.

Hundreds of ships now traverse through the region daily. The Arabian Sea is the main channel linking West Asian countries with China and South East Asia. Earlier, ships used to navigate through a channel off the Lakshadweep shore, but now they sail close to the Kerala coast, since it keeps them away from the piracy-prone areas, the officials said.

A large number of fishing boats also operate in the region. It is estimated that about seven lakh fishermen depend on the sea off Kerala coast for their livelihood. According to officials, the growing traffic of merchant ships and the increasing number of fishing boats creates congestion in the sea. This leads to accidents, the kind that was witnessed last week, said officials.

A senior official in the Mercantile Marine Department, Kochi, said that majority of the fishing boats venturing into the high seas did not comply with the requirements stipulated by the Director-General of Shipping. The Union Government had issued clear rules and regulations for fishing boats venturing into the high seas for fishing after the Mumbai terror attacks. According to the rules, all fishing boats should install Automatic Identification System so that the Coast Guard and DG Shipping could monitor the boat and its position when an accident occurs. Apart from this, the boats should have all life saving equipments and means of communication of signalling. The official said that majority of the fishing boats go beyond 12 nautical miles, as the catch is getting reduced in internal waters.

Though India has fishing rights up to the Exclusive Economic Zone, it is mandatory on the part of boats moving into the zone to comply with the requirements such as collision regulations to avert accidents. The Kerala Fisheries Minister, Mr K. Babu said, “it is true that majority of the fishing boats operating in the high seas are not using any mode of communication system even though the Government had supplied over 7,000 radio beacons to the fishermen in the past.”  However, the Government plans to distribute another 7,000 more, provided the fishermen community effectively makes use of the same. Following the recurrence of accidents, the State Government now decided to streamline communication facilities for fishermen at sea.

Construction of mobile towers on fishing hamlets with powerful signals are under consideration. The Additional Chief Secretary had been asked to hold discussions with mobile phone companies to enhance their coverage at sea, as it would enable fishermen to have easy access to the shore through mobile phones, the Minister said. The State Government has also decided to set up an integrated marine safety project, which envisages communication facilities using GPRS and CDMA systems within 14 nautical miles from the coast and marine VHF Radio between 14-32 nautical miles. Satellite-based high frequency radio is provided to be used for communication beyond 32 nautical miles.

Apart from this, it has also been decided to pass repeated messages to ships passing through the Kerala coast about the safety status of the zone in respect of piracy. The Government is also planning to set up 10 more coastal police stations and all such stations would have efficient personnel to take adequate steps in the event of emergencies at sea. According to the Minister, four experienced fishermen will be posted in each coastal police station as marine home guards. It was also proposed to appoint two retired staff from the Navy and the Coast Guard in all coastal police stations.