Muthalapozhi harbour: Fisheries department moots temporary shutdown

Plans on to shut down harbour for two months to avoid accidents, fatalities of fishermen
Fishermen braving the rough waves to venture into the sea for fishing at Perumathura Muthalapozhi harbour mouth in Thiruvananthapuram
Fishermen braving the rough waves to venture into the sea for fishing at Perumathura Muthalapozhi harbour mouth in Thiruvananthapuram Photo | B P Deepu

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Amid growing concerns over safety following a series of accidents and fatalities, the Fisheries Department has mooted the shutting down of Muthalapozhi Harbour temporarily sparking outrage and concerns among the thousands of fishermen depending on the harbour for daily livelihood.

Last week, a fisherman lost his life and two were seriously injured after their fishing boat capsized at Muthalapozhi Harbour. As per unofficial reports, around 77 fishermen have lost their lives at the Muthalapozhi Harbour in the past eight to nine years. This year, the harbour witnessed over eleven minor and major accidents. As many as 25,000 fishermen from the region depend on the harbour for daily livelihood.

Despite the growing number of accidents and deaths, the state government and the departments concerned, including the harbour engineering department and the fisheries department, have failed to come up with effective solutions to make the harbour - which generates huge revenues for the government - safer for fishermen.

According to fishermen, apart from studies and reports, nothing has happened on the ground to make the harbour safer. In a recent development, the fisheries department has suggested the closure of the Muthalapozhi harbour temporarily for two months during the peak monsoon to avoid accidents and fatalities of fishermen.

This has sparked outrage among the fishermen community and, on Monday, hundreds of fishermen picketed the harbour engineering department office expressing stiff protest and demanding solutions to protect their livelihood. Sulaiman A, chairman of Muthalapozhi Swathanthra Matsya Thozhilali Union, said that it was just a token protest and that the closure of the Muthalapozhi Harbour is unacceptable.

“We have been risking our lives and venturing into the sea to feed our families. I own two fishing boats and I pay around Rs 1,800 every day for fuel as cess to the government and the harbour has been generating crores worth of business. We have been at the receiving end of all the difficulties within the harbour for many years. If the authorities valued our lives, they would have done something to make this harbour safer,” said Sulaiman. He said that the fishermen irrespective of political affiliations, caste and religion are part of the protest.

A senior official of the Fisheries Department told TNIE that the closure of Muthalapozhi Harbour is the only solution to ensure the safety of fishermen this monsoon. “To survive this monsoon without any fatalities and accidents, the only option is to temporarily shut down the harbour for two months.

We have communicated this with the fishing community and the state government. The fisheries minister will chair a meeting with the fishing community and various departments on Wednesday. We hope they will be convinced. As an alternative arrangement, the fishermen can use the facilities at Vizhinjam and Neendakara Harbours during the closure period,” said the official.

For the time being, for ensuring the safety of the fishermen, the department has engaged three rescue boats and deployed thirty lifeguards.

‘Rs 160-crore project awaits approval from Centre’

The unscientific breakwater construction and ineffective dredging activities are the primary reasons for the recurring accidents at Muthalapozhi Harbour. Clearing the sediment accumulation and maintaining a depth of 5 metre to keep the channel at Muthalapozhi estuary navigable for fishing boats is the only way to prevent accidents.

Unfortunately, the dredging activities have not been carried out in an effective manner. An official with the harbour engineering department said that the government has extended the contract with Adani Vizhinjam Port Private Ltd (AVPPL) for dredging activities.

“We have placed a proposal worth Rs 3 crores for emergency activities at Muthalapozhi to the state government. Dredging activities and strengthening of the breakwater are the main components of the project. Once the elections are over, the project will be sanctioned,” said the official.

Kerala Swathanthra Matsya Thozhilali Federation district president Valerian Issac said the departments are evading their responsibility by roping in private agencies. “There are around 140 fishing boats and around 600 or 700 small fishing vessels operating at the harbour. Despite growing accidents, fishermen have no option but to take the same risk to feed their families,” said Valerian Issac.

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