The contiguous seas that often bestow fishermen with a good catch have been rendered unforgiving lately by merchant vessels that transgress fishing zones and endanger many lives.

Hardly a year after five fishermen were killed after their boat collided with cargo ship Prabhu Daya off Kerala, conflict between fishing boats and merchant vessels that meander along Kerala’s coast ostensibly to give the pirates the slip continues to muddle the country’s fishing zones.

The situation gets murkier as fishermen go far and wide, risking their lives, in search of a decent catch.

“Even though fishermen are constantly advised to restrict themselves to fishing zones, extending up to 20-30 nautical miles, they are found to go up to 100 nautical miles where they cannot be contacted,” said K.. Babu, Minister for Fisheries and Ports.

He said a three-member technical committee headed by managing director of the Coastal Area Development Corporation has been formed to study the issue. “When tenders were called from those who can provide communication equipment, only those with range up to 15 nautical miles responded. New tenders will be invited on the basis of the report by the committee,” Mr. Babu said.

Pirate attacks

Sources in coastal zone management and the police said cargo liners and bigger vessels move closer to the coast to stay within mobile phone range as also to ward off pirate attacks, as the western Indian coast falls within the ‘high risk area’ of piracy as per international guidelines.

The Coast Guard on Thursday said that m.v. Izumo, detained for allegedly colliding with a fishing boat off Beypore, was only moving along a natural route. “The ship was coming from the Indian port of Kandla and heading for Singapore. So it was natural that it went as close as 18 to 20 nautical miles from the coast. Ships generally do that to save up on fuel and time,” said Coast Guard District Commander T.K.S. Chandran.

Following the accident, in which three fishermen had a miraculous escape, a case was registered with Beypore coastal police under section 337 of the Indian Penal Code for ‘causing hurt to other by acting in a rash or negligent manner’, which will get a punishment of “imprisonment of either description of a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to five hundred rupees, or with both.”

“The fishermen had cast the net on either side of their dinghy. As they saw the ship approaching them, they shouted and waved flags to force the ship to change its course. But as it continued to advance, they jumped overboard. The collision broke their dinghy into two, which sank,” said Mr. Chandran.

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