Had it been a fisherman who regularly goes to the sea, the boat would not have capsized in the Pulicat lake, according to heads of 15 fisherfolk panchayats of Light House Kuppam Panchayat.

Inland fishermen who have little knowledge of the sea are allowed to operate boats often resulting in mishaps, such as the one on Sunday in which 22 persons drowned after a boat capsized in the Pulicat lake. Ansari, who took the family of an hotelier from Gummidipoondi in the boat, was an inland fisherman.

Had it been a fisherman who regularly goes to the sea, the boat would not have capsized, according to heads of 15 fisherfolk panchayats of Light House Kuppam Panchayat. Ansari was arrested but released on bail later.

“We depend on the sea for our livelihood. We know where the trouble spots are, when the tide is in and out and when the winds are strong,” said C.Easwaran, one of the panchayatdars. The panchayat heads, who met on Monday, decided to appeal to authorities, including the District Collector, to regulate boating and permit only those who go fishing in the sea to take tourists on boat rides.

Similar tragedy

“In 1994 when a similar tragedy happened, it was an inland fisherman who was responsible. Our boats have safety gear, including life jackets, ropes for people to hold on to and also tyre tubes. We also ensure that at least three of our men are in the boat ready to help in emergencies,” said K.M.Bhaskar, vice-president, Light House Kuppam Panchayat.

Popular tourist destinations

The Light House Kuppam beach and the Pulicat lake are popular tourist destinations attracting hundreds of people on Sundays and holidays. Manoharan of Koonangkuppam said that a rule that no more than 10 persons should be taken in a boat, introduced sometime ago, was enforced only for a few months.

He added that on holidays the number of visitors swells and at least 400 boats were required to meet the daily demand.

The charge would be anywhere between Rs.400–Rs.1,000 depending on the number of persons and the distance to be travelled.

No illumination

“We want police protection on coming Sunday, New Year's Day. One cannot imagine the kind of crowds that come here. But the beach lacks illumination. Though lights are installed they do not function. We want a road leading to the beach to be laid, proper parking facilities and toilets,” said R.Karunakaran, president Light House Kuppam Panchayat.

K.B.Kannaiyyan, president of Pazhaverkadu Panchayat, under which there are 10 fishing hamlets, said the State government must introduce boating services to prevent fishermen from taking people on trips into the sea. “We have space here for creating tourism facilities. This will help prevent tragedies,” he said. Official sources in the district administration said a proposal for setting up some kind of tourist facility for boating would be sent to the State government.