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Updated: February 4, 2013 11:23 IST

Port, CISF and fishers spar over rights

S. Anandan
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As part of the continuing vigil post 26/11, CISF drives away fishermen operating near the harbour

The gaping hole punched by an explosive laden boat of al-Qaeda on American warship USS Cole still gives the jitters to port authorities the world over. The Cochin Port Trust, the country’s only explosive-handling port, is no different.

Till date, after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, the Cochin Port maintains a ‘heightened’ vigil, level-2, as per the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS), on the harbour premises, which has ticked off fishermen operating in the area.

The fishers recently alleged ill-treatment at the hands of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel guarding the harbour and other high-value installations on the adjoining Puthuvype Island, but the Port authorities have put their foot down, maintaining that its quays as well as the shipping channels must remain sanitised round-the-clock to avert untoward incidents.

The CISF, which has bolstered its presence by adding 208 more personnel to guard the International Container Transshipment Terminal and the Petronet LNG, denies roughing up fishermen near the LNG terminal, saying the two boats it owns are not seaworthy and cannot be steered into deeper waters. “We carry out patrol of the shipping channel on either side — Mattancherry and Vypeen — but not beyond. How could we have gone near LNG?” asks CISF Senior Commandant M.L. Chauhan.

At the request of the Port Trust, the CISF has now launched land patrols along the Puthuvype Island. It also hopes to have in near future a better, bigger boat to scour the entire area.

Port Trust chairman Paul Antony foresees an imminent surge in shipping around Kochi with the lifting of cabotage regulations, and with the port berths getting a facelift plus a general cargo berth. While the Navy pitches for outlawing fishing some 2 nautical miles on the Puthuvype seafront, the Port Trust has no qualms about innocent and safe transit of fishing canoes and boats along the stretch. That, however, doesn’t mean fishermen can put up stake nets in the channel as they often do. Similarly, the harbour limits should remain out of bounds.

In a recent communication to the CISF, Mr. Antony wrote: “Fishing boats have been asked to observe lane discipline in Cochin Port limits; they have to adhere to the south of the buoys in the outer channel. In the Vypeen gut area, fishing vessels proceeding to Vypeen are required to keep to the north of the shipping channel, while fishing vessels proceeding to the Cochin Fisheries harbour are required to keep to the south of the fishing channel. However, this is not being observed by them. Therefore, there is a strong need to enforce this discipline to avoid security breaches as well as accidents.”

The Port has also asked fishermen to keep a minimum distance of 50 metres from ships, basically for their own safety.

The Fisheries Harbour, revamped by the port on a budget of Rs. 12 crore, demonstrates the great deal of attention we offer the fishing community, Mr. Antony argues. The tiff boils down to the narrowness of the Vypeen gut.

While the fishers demand an exclusive channel parallel to the shipping channel, the port points to the thinness of the stretch which doesn’t allow one. “It isn’t possible to have additional buoys between buoys no. 14 and 15, as it would leave no room for navigation during contingencies,” he says.

As an alternative, the port suggests dredging up the RMP canal between Vypeen and Puthuvype for exclusive use by fishing vessels. The long-term solution would be to develop fisheries harbours in places like Chellanam, which would take the load off the shipping zone.

Besides the petroleum and gas installations on Puthuvype Island, Ernakualm and Mattancherry together have seven oil pumping arms while the eighth is on the cards. “This makes the whole area highly sensitive. Think of the naphtha leak incident in 1989, and you would realise how serious the situation is now,” says a CISF official.

Meanwhile, the port is not happy with the private security mounted on the single point mooring (for oil transfer) operated by BPCL some 10 nautical miles off the harbour.

“It isn’t effective,” says an official. While there was a proposal to entrust the CISF with the task, it demanded ‘better maritime infrastructure’ to do the job.

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