Blame game over salvaging sunken fishing boats from Kochi estuary

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Express News Service

KOCHI: The fisheries department and the Cochin Port Trust are involved in a legal battle over the removal of sunken fishing vessels that had capsized in the Kochi estuary. Repeated incidents of fishing vessels capsizing in the region and the lack of expertise in salvaging the boats have triggered a debate on who should shoulder the responsibility of clearing the shipping channel of wreckage, and thereby ensuring smooth sail of the vessels.

In this wake, the Cochin Port Trust has filed a case against the fisheries department before the Kochi sub-court, seeking a compensation of `1.47 crore for not removing a boat that sunk in the estuary in 2018. The fisheries secretary, director, deputy director, Vypeen assistant director and the owner of the boat have been named respondents in the case. Three boats had sunken in the estuary over the past four months. As attempts to salvage the boats failed, fishermen organisations in the city approached the Fisheries Minister’s Office seeking a floating crane to salvage the boats. The minister’s office, however, said it was not the mandate of the department. 

A mechanised fishing boat named ‘Poornashree’ had capsized in the estuary on May 29 this year. Later on August 31, another boat ‘Ashiqmon’ sunk in the same place after hitting the flag mast of the sunken boat. On September 1, an inboard fishing boat ‘St Antony’, used by traditional fishermen, also sunk after hitting the debris. Though the fishers bought a 150-tonne floating crane spending `4 lakh to salvage the boat, the attempt failed. They also approached the Port Trust for help, only to be told the port does not have the facility.

“A fishing boat ‘Neethiman’ had sunken in the estuary on July 27, 2018. The fisheries department had helped the owner tow that boat to the harbour. However, the boat got stuck in the shipping channel, thereby blocking movement of ships from outer sea to the port. Later, the port engaged a private agency to salvage the boat at a cost of `37 lakh. 

Alleging that the blocking of the shipping channel caused a huge loss, the port then filed a case against the fisheries department,” said Charles George, president of Kerala Matsya Thozhilali Aikya Vedi. As per the Indian Ports Act, the port has the authority to remove any impediment in the shipping channel and recover the expense from the authority concerned, said M Beena, chairperson, Cochin Port Trust.  “In 2018, the fisheries department had towed the boat that sunk in the estuary and got it stuck in the channel in the process. The functioning of the port was affected for 12 days because of this. Five big vessels could not enter the port due to the blocking of the channel. As this caused a huge loss to the port, the board has decided to recover the loss from the authorities concerned,” she added.

Meanwhile, Fisheries Joint Director M S Saju said the department didn’t have the mandate to remove sunken boats form the estuary. “Only the Port Trust has the expertise. They should salvage the boats and recover the expense from the owner,” he said.  

Meanwhile, it has been pointed out that the four-tonne fishing net in the sunken boat may drift into the shipping channel and damage the propeller of ships visiting the port.  The fishermen in the area have demanded that the government and the Port Trust jointly provide a mechanism to salvage boats that sink in the estuary.

PORT TRUST FILES CASE
The Cochin Port Trust has filed a case against the fisheries department before the Kochi sub-court, seeking a compensation of `1.47 crore for not removing a boat that sunk in the estuary in 2018.

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