The Coast Guard unit at Beypore has been in the news several times recently for its search and rescue efforts in bringing ashore fishermen who are lost at sea and in recovering bodies. But the unpredictable currents and shallow areas in the Chaliyar river and near the estuary where a majority of the drowning incidents happen have been quite a challenge for it.

Speaking to The Hindu here on Tuesday, M. Venkatesh, Station Commander, Beypore Coast Guard, said that search and rescue efforts in the area could be successful only with the coordination of all stakeholders – the Coast Guard, the Marine Enforcement Wing, the Coastal Security Police and the local fishermen.

“There is a misconception, at least among a section of the local population, that the Coast Guard is not doing enough when people go missing in the waters of the estuary. Though our major thrust area is security and rescue efforts concentrated on the sea, we have never shied away from search and rescue in the estuary as is evident from the recent incidents,” Mr. Venkatesh says.

Criticisms have come recently in cases in which a sand-mining worker fell into the river and a person jumped from the Feroke Bridge. The local fishermen had recovered the bodies in both the cases.

“The Chaliyar estuary is shallow and the undercurrents are strong. So if a person falls, the body will not go straight to the bottom. Rather, it floats towards the sea a bit below the surface. It is hard to pinpoint the location if some time elapses after the incident. The fishermen and the local population are vital in such cases to give us the information at the right time. When such information reaches us, the first step is to mobilise resources wherever available. If the area is shallow, it is hard for our boats as they need a high draught. So, the fishermen’s boats or nets aid us in the rescue,” he says.

Deputy Commander K. Yousaf Ali says that to reduce accidents at sea while fishing, the fishermen and boat owners are always advised on the precautions to be taken. But only a small percent follows these.

“Most of the time, the boat owner does not care much for the safety of the fishermen who go to sea. We have advised them to keep adequate number of life jackets and enough food and water in case they go missing in the sea for some days. This is yet to be followed by everyone,” says Mr. Yousaf Ali.

In April, all fishing boats were given the Distress Alert Transmitter System (DATS) so that they could be traced if they were lost at sea. The fishermen can press an alert switch that sends a distress message to the main centre at Mumbai through satellite. From this signal, the register number of the boat can be traced and the local station informed. But this system has also seen some misuse, with many false alarms being raised.

“The fishermen have a tendency to press the switch even under normal conditions. This has created a lot of confusion and wasted effort for us. In one case, an actual accident happened at a location off the coast but we went and searched another place owing to a false alarm. We try to create awareness of these issues during the community interactions with the fishermen and their families,” says Mr. Yousaf Ali.

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