Fishworkers in the State are concerned over the government decision to curtail the operations of the Marine Enforcement wing and hand over its role to the Coastal Police.

In an order issued on August 26, the Home Department said the creation of coastal police stations had obviated the requirement for a Marine Enforcement wing under the Fisheries Department. Pointing out that the duties assigned to the Marine Enforcement were actually confined to the 45 days when the trawling ban was in force, the order said a full-fledged wing was not necessary.

The order sanctioned the merger of the Marine Enforcement wing with the coastal police stations.

The Kerala Swathantra Matsya Thozhilali Federation (KSMTF) has expressed strong protest over the decision to dilute the role of the Marine Enforcement division. Federation State president T. Peter said the new arrangement would affect the rescue of fishermen stranded at sea.

“The Kerala Marine Enforcement wing was set up in 1984 to prevent unauthorised operation of trawlers in coastal waters, and rescue fishermen stranded at sea. The government decision to dilute the role of the division is ill-advised and unwarranted.”

Mr. Peter said the Coastal Police was ill-equipped to take up rescue operations, a role that demanded skill and resources. “Many of the policemen deployed on the high-speed vessels are not swimmers, and are known to develop sea sickness on long hauls, especially during rough weather.”

The fisherfolk are also apprehensive about the jurisdictional complications involved in relaying a distress message to the Coastal Police. “A fisherman setting out to sea from Vizhinjam could be stranded somewhere off the Alappuzha coast. Earlier, all we had to do was inform the Marine Enforcement SP to get a coordinated rescue operation launched in the shortest time. Now, we fear that jurisdictional limits would require us to alert multiple stations, delaying the rescue,” he said.

“While we could work in close coordination with the Marine Enforcement, we fear the police would not be as willing to utilise our services,” he said.

The federation has urged the government to repeal the order and restore the functioning of the Marine Enforcement wing with an enlarged role covering coastal security. It has also proposed a complementary role for the coastal police.

The federation is planning to launch a State-wide agitation on September 15 to highlight various demands, including an enhanced quota of kerosene and inclusion of all fishworkers in the below poverty line list.