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Not a smooth sail for these boats

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Tough deal: The mechanised boats being repaired at Akkaraipettai in Nagapattinam.
Tough deal: The mechanised boats being repaired at Akkaraipettai in Nagapattinam.

Repairing and regular maintenance of mechanised boats has now become a head ache for the fishermen owning the boats in the coastal district of Nagapattinam. The cost of it had doubled in the last six months mainly due to the high cost of skilled labour coupled with the steep hike in the prices of steel, wood, paints and other materials required for repairing the mechanised boats.

A cross-section of fishermen in Nagapattinam, Vedaranyam and Pazhayar told The Hindu that the fishermen owning mechanised boats were now finding it difficult even to attend to regular repair works due to all-round rise in the prices of all commodities. No worker is willing to come for daily wages and take up the work only on contract basis by which a skilled worker will be able to earn Rs.300 to Rs.350 per day whereas he would get a maximum of Rs.175 to Rs.200 as daily wage.

After the tsunami struck the 188-km long Nagapattinam district coastal area, nearly 5,000 new fibreglass boats, one thousand conventional wood-made mechanised boats and more than one hundred steel mechanised boats were venturing into the sea for fishing from the district. Besides, many huge trawlers are also venturing into the sea.

According to M. Kandasamy, owner of a few mechanised boats in Nagapattinam and Velankanni, nearly Rs.2 lakh is now required for attending to minor repairs and for one-coat painting of a boat. The cost of non-corrosive paint and other materials had gone up in the last six months and the labourers are also demanding more money for the work.

He pointed out that a large number of fishermen are now operating the mechanised boats without doing much repair works and venturing into the sea. This also poses danger to lives when the boats will sink in the mid sea.

The cost of a 20-tonne new mechanised boat made of whole steel body or wood with all facilities including cold storage for fish catch, etc. has now touched Rs.25 lakh to Rs.27 lakh whereas it was available for about Rs.20 lakh last year.

Many fishermen are now showing interest in buying the steel body mechanised boats that are less expensive both in the price as well as in fuel consumption than the traditional wooden mechanised boats and can bring easily five tonnes of fish catch.

Joseph, an experienced mechanic from Kerala and now repairing steel body mechanised boats, said that Kerala had introduced the steel body boats several years ago following the acute scarcity of a particular variety of wood (`Agni wood’ available only in Kerala) for making the conventional wooden body mechanised boats.

As many as a dozen steel body boat building and repairing units came up after the tsunami in the district and many of them are now closed.

Many fishermen who lost their mechanised boats in the tsunami purchased new boats for Rs.20 lakh as the Government gave a subsidy of Rs.Five lakh for each boat and the banks provided loan for remaining amount of Rs.15 lakh.

The Government provided Rs.52 crore for the rehabilitation of the fishermen.

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