It is expected to handle 8,980 tonnes of fish and provide 2,275 jobs

Hamsa N.P., a 45-year-old fisherman of Vellayil, is never at home, nor is he at sea. In fact, he spends his days between both.

For him, sleep is a luxury, family is a blur and income is far from steady.

A typical day for the bleary-eyed man starts at 10 p.m., when he catches the last bus to Beypore along with 34 others. Their 45-feet fibre boat or manchu is docked in the harbour there. A manchu, which costs about Rs. 50 lakh, is manned by a mix of locals and migrant workers.

The group spends the night in the docked boat trying to get a wink of sleep before the first light. At the crack of dawn, they join the rush of boats setting out to sea. The short leg from the harbour to the open sea is marked heavily with cussing and threats of fist fights. Their adversaries are the “Beypore locals”, also setting out for the day’s catch.

“Our catch varies from Rs. 5 lakh to nothing. If 10 boats head out, only two may catch something. A day’s loss can add up to Rs. 7,000. It is like a lottery,” Mr. Hamsa said.

The proceeds from the sale of fish caught are shared at 60:40 ratio between the workers and the boat owner, respectively. After the day in sea, he takes the bus back home. A quick bath and a hurried meal later, he has to head back to Beypore for the next day’s work.

“The last bus is at 10 p.m. We have to start at 3 a.m. from Beypore. Private vehicles charge us anything between Rs. 400 to Puthiyappa and Rs. 1,000 to Beypore. We cannot afford that. So the fishermen of Vellayil, who have boats docked in Beypore and Puthiyappa, start out the previous night. I hardly see my children,” Sulaiman P., who works in the same boat as Mr. Hamsa, said.

Both are arranging chairs for the evening’s function at the Vellayil Landing Centre where Chief Minister Oommen Chandy will inaugurate the work on the Rs. 39.3-crore fishing harbour project.

The harbour would be in addition to the existing harbours at Beypore and Puthiyappa. Once completed, 250 medium to large fishing boats could operate and dock here, giving fishermen like Hamsa and Sulaiman the much need time to be at home.

The harbour would be capable of handling 8,980 tonnes of fish and provide jobs to 2,275 fishermen.

Locals recall how in the 1970s, fishermen used to come from as far as Kannur district to Chavakkad in Thrissur to sell their catch here. “There was enough chaapaas (storage houses) here to store fish. They used to salt and dry the fish here, put it on ice or pack them. People used to come here from Goa and Tamil Nadu to sell their catch. Everything is close by, the Vellayil Railway Station is hardly 2 km from the beach. There is the main coastal road. Now this place sells hardly 100 boxes of fish,” Abdul Salaam, who is fish packing worker at the Vellayil landing centre here, said.

Vellayil lost its sheen, according to K.P. Moidu, a commission agent, when the mode of fishing changed from eight-men catamarans to 40-men and engine powered trawlers and fibre boats. “Catamarans could be pulled up on the beach and docked here. We could start out to sea from Vellayil beach. ,” he said.