KOCHI: To ensure the security of the coastline and prevent smuggling activities through the sea route, the Customs has launched a crackdown on fishing vessels operating from Kerala shores using China-made Automatic Identification System-tracking devices which are mandatory for vessels now.The decision was taken after multiple agencies raised concerns regarding security issues following fishing boats fitted with the Chinese AIS were found on the Kerala coast.
Recently, Customs Commissioner Sumit Kumar directed its marine units to intensify checking on fishing vessels which are not using the standard AIS recommended by the government.The marine units have already tracked down 18 such vessels operating from various harbours in Kerala.
“The AIS is an important device to track the movement of fishing vessels. However, the Chinese AIS devices often show wrong locations of the vessels, posing a threat to national security. The vessels fitted with such AIS can be used for smuggling activities as agencies will find it hard to track them. We have issued a show-cause notice to owners of the vessels fitted with Chinese AIS. Action can be taken under Section 11(2)(s) of the Customs Act,” he said.
Difficult to track
A standard AIS costs around Rs 40,000 but it is provided to fishing vessel owners at a subsidised rate. At the same time, the Chinese AIS is available for around Rs 6,000.Each AIS has a Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number with country code. The fishing vessels with Chinese AIS is mistakenly identified as a Chinese vessel with a respective MMSI number.Last year, the Coast Guard had taken up the matter with the state’s Fisheries Department.
ID cards must
Similarly, the Customs has also decided to initiate legal action against the fishing boat crew who engage in fishing activities in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (up to 200 nautical miles) without valid identity cards and related documents.
“Often during the search operations, we find that fishermen don’t keep valid identity cards to confirm their nationality while working on fishing vessels at sea. We have decided to register cases in such situations to make coastal security foolproof,” Kumar said.
However, one of the major concerns before the Customs is not having enough marine units in Kerala. Currently, the marine units are stationed in Kochi and Beypore.
New marine units are expected to start in Kollam, Vizhinjam and Lakshadweep. There are 11 boats with marine unit personnel in Kerala. The last boat was procured in 2007.
“Currently, the discussion is on with the state government to start two more marine units in Kerala. We are also looking to start a marine unit in Lakshadweep which comes under Customs formation in Kerala,” he said.
Chinese AIS is popular among fishing boat owners due to its cheap price
18 fishing vessels with Chinese AIS identified
Show-cause notices to be issued against owners of boats with Chinese AIS
Case to be registered if fishermen venturing into sea don’t keep valid identity cards
More Customs marine units to be deployed in Kerala and Lakshadweep