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Demand for a professional body in State to ensure boat safety

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John L. Paul

`Post marine engineers, naval architects at helm'

KOCHI: Kerala needs an Inland Waterways Transport Directorate, Authority or Board manned by professionals to ensure that disasters like the Thattekkad boat tragedy do not repeat.

There is increasing demand for this, since at present, officials in the mechanical and canal sections of the irrigation wing issue fitness certificate and licence to boats. The licensing officials are neither marine engineers nor naval architects, and they are not trained in boat construction.

Director of Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) S. Dandapat said the Irrigation Department did not have a dedicated wing to issue licence to boats and enforce rules. "The State urgently needs a professional body consisting of marine engineers and naval architects, who are well versed with the nuances of boat building, safety norms and waterways rules. Irrigation Department officials do not know any of these. Unless officials are well versed in design and operational and safety requirements, accidents will recur in our waterways," he said.

As of now, there is no agency to enforce boating rules in the State. There is an urgent need for a new registration authority which is vested with statutory powers for enforcement as well. Only merchant vessels have expert agencies at the Centre Director General of Shipping and the Mercantile Marine Department (MMD) to ensure safety norms.

Mr. Dandapat said the antiquated laws that bind boat safety in the State had to be amended and changes brought in. All States had accepted the Inland Vessel Act, 1977 (a Central Act). Based on this, each State could frame rules and regulations. The I.V. Act had specific norms in preventing accidents and collisions in the waterways. But it was the duty of States to issue licences, he said.

"We frequently circulate rules on boat safety to States and Tourism Departments. The Central Act has specified standards required for construction of different classes of vessels, safety equipment, etc. These are based on specifications laid down by the IWAI and MMD," he said.

There are two rules Prevention of Collisions on National Waterway Regulations, 2002, and National Waterway Safety of Navigation and Shipping Regulations, 2002. The guidelines have been prepared in consultation with the MMD, classification societies, Indian Registry of Shipping and Maritime Boards of some States.

Based on these two legislations and the Central Act, States could frame model rules on survey and certification of vessels, construction and equipment, stability requirements, machinery and electrical installations, fire protection, life-saving equipment, radio communications, safety of navigation, use of lights, prevention of maritime pollution, passenger capacity, etc. The rules should impose stringent penalties like confiscation of licence, registration, etc. of the vessel, in case of violations. The inspecting officer should have statutory powers so that he could take penal action, Mr. Dandapat said.

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