The Kochi International Marina is wearing an almost deserted look, despite foreign tourists flocking to Kerala during the peak tourist season in the State.
There is more cause for worry. Hardly six yachts are berthed at the sole marina in India where 25 to 30 yachts used to be berthed during the previous years. “This despite marinas in Malaysia and Thailand being packed with seafarers and their yachts,” said Cdr (retd) Jose Verghese, the vice-president (operations) of Ocean Blue Boating that operates the Kochi marina located off the Bolghatty Island.
The reasons for seafarers skipping the marina are many, the main one being the threat of piracy on the Somali coast. “They fear travelling westward from Kochi since pirates killed two couples early this year after hijacking their yachts in the Arabian Sea. Because of this, the few yachters berthed here are planning a trip to the Lakswadeep Islands,” he said.
Interestingly, over a dozen yachts used to be berthed each year in the backwaters off the island during the December-January peak tourist season, much before the marina was established.
Among the seafarers who sailed into Kochi as part of the Vasco da Gama Rally is the couple Jamie and Liz. They came in their yacht ‘Esper' about 18 months ago and have since been checking out different tourist locales in Kerala and in other States after anchoring the yacht in the marina.
“It's encouraging to see more and more Indians embrace sailing,” said Mr Jamie. But yacht repair amenities are very limited in Kochi and other coastal towns, unlike the coastline of Turkey, Greece etc., where repair yards provide employment to thousands of people. Though Kochi has a few shops that sell spares and equipment, yachters have to scout for days to locate them. The Kochi-Goa coastal trip would be interesting, but the sea off Goa is full of fishermen and repair yards are very few there, he said.
Another seafaring couple, Gerry and Donna from Canada, appreciated the role played by Indian Navy warships in checking piracy off the Somali coast. They wanted India to be liberal with visas, to attract more yachters. “But the people here (in Kochi) are good and so we stay here,” Ms Dona said. “We love the food, the safe anchorage here and the interesting sights,” she said.
They spoke in unison about how yachts must keep coming to the marina so that more people get interested in sailing and the local boat/yacht repair and maintenance industry gets a fillip.