An hour before Italian tanker Enrica Lexie was diverted to Kochi on February 15 for killing Indian fishermen off the Kerala Coast, a merchant vessel anchored off the Kochi port had raised a robbery alarm.

Cargo ship Olympic Flair, which had been at anchorage off the port, told the agencies the next day that a few men on boat had attempted to make away with rope and marine paint from the ship around 10 p.m. on February 15. However, after the ship raised an alarm, they fled, it was reported.

A container vessel operating under the CMA CGM group wasn't as fortunate, and it lost to thieves three bundles of steel rope and 64 cans of marine paint while at anchorage in the outer Kochi harbour in mid-January. Sources say that the police were able to recover two of the three bundles of steel rope and 58 tins of stolen paint.

“The incidents have triggered heightened concerns among shipping companies, and have further stained the image of the Kerala coast and ports as unsafe for merchant vessels which is not the case in reality,” said security sources.

Unless there was an effort on the part of the agencies concerned to prevent robbery on vessels in outer harbour or at sea, this could trigger knee-jerk reaction on their part at the sight of fast-approaching fishing boats, they cautioned.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard has asked the State administration and the Fisheries department to sensitise the fishermen going out to sea to keep off merchant vessels, especially because most of them now have armed guards aboard. “This is for their own good. Closing ships to save their fishing nets could be dangerous, often resulting in avoidable tragedies like the one that happened last week,” they said.

A rise in incidence of piracy close to our waters in the Arabian Sea over the past two years, after various naval forces intensified patrolling in the Gulf of Aden, perhaps rendered our seas the rather fallacious image of being unsafe for shipping. “There hasn't been a single piracy attack reported in this area in the recent past. However, the cooperation of the fishing community is paramount in getting across to the shipping community the message that our seas are safe for navigation,” Coast Guard sources said.

Last week, the agency also wrote to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) asking it to educate the shipping companies to shun their apprehensions over the safety of shipping lanes close to India's territorial sea.