KOCHI: Uncontrolled movement of watercraft, including fishing boats and smaller vessels, is posing a threat to the smooth navigation of merchant ships to and from the Cochin Port (CPT). The port suffered huge monetary and business losses following the sinking of a fishing boat in the shipping channel while it was being towed to the harbour by a rescue boat deployed by the Marine Enforcement Wing following a distress call from the boat. The incident disrupted the movement of ships till the sunken boat was fished out after a week-long effort.
Five mainline vessels were diverted from the Cochin Port to other ports causing a commercial loss of Rs 1.13 crore to CPT alone besides having an adverse impact onshore for the business community.
Since the channel in the Kochi estuary is the only path to and from the port, any hurdle in the 14-metre deep shipping channel will be dearer for CPT as it can cause disruption in the sailing or berthing of ships. The channel is the lifeline for other organisations as well, affecting the operations of the Navy, Coast Guard and the Cochin Shipyard.
In a letter sent to the fisheries director, CPT had made it clear they would initiate legal action against those responsible for the accident causing ''national loss". The authorities clarified the port was facing a "near-closure" situation as the sunken boat occupied one-third of the channel space where it sank. Ships requiring a depth of more than 12 metres were unable to enter the port till the channel was cleared.
Kerala lacks competent authority to verify fitness of fishing vessels
The incident points to the urgent requirement for fitness verification of fishing boats. According to Joseph Xavier Kalappurackal, general secretary of the All Kerala Fishing Boat Operators Association, there is no competent authority in Kerala to verify the fitness of fishing vessels. "Earlier, the Department of Ports used to issue fitness certificates to fishing boats after inspection by experts," he said. "Around 10 years ago, the Department of Fisheries took over this responsibility.
he Fisheries Department, or any agency under it, don't have technical experts who can check the seaworthiness of the vessel. Inspection is now carried out by the clerical staff who do not even know how to measure the length of a boat." The port authorities said the boat was taken to the channel without the permission of CPT. The Marine Enforcement Wing should have informed the port control that they were towing the vessel to the harbour. If informed, the port trust would also have extended assistance to tow it without letting it sink in the channel. Port control was not informed even when the boat started to sink.
Shipping channel should be exclusively for ships
No other watercraft other than ships should be allowed to enter the channel, pointed out shipping expert Jose Paul, who is also the former chairman the Mormugao Port Trust. ''The shipping channel and the channel for boats should be demarcated using buoys. Boats should not be allowed to move beyond the buoy. Fishing boats do not require the depth that ships require. If there is a any obstruction in the channel, its impact will be manifold. It affects not only the port but all business groups associated with a port,'' Jose Paul said.