Production of steel, fibreglass mechanised boats moves to top gear in Thoothukudi

April 24, 2024 06:53 pm | Updated 06:54 pm IST - THOOTHUKUDI

A steel mechanised boat being built at Tharuvaikulam near Thoothukudi.

A steel mechanised boat being built at Tharuvaikulam near Thoothukudi. | Photo Credit: N. RAJESH

Construction of steel and fibreglass mechanised boats, which have almost replaced the traditional wooden boats requiring frequent maintenance, has moved to top gear in this coastal district as these crafts are to be ready for launch before the end of the 60-day annual fishing ban on June 15.

As the annual fishing ban on east coast between April 15 and June 15 comes into force every year, the sea has become almost ‘silent’ with only the small country boats venturing into the sea for fishing every day between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m. while the mechanised boats are anchored in their bases.

And, the mechanised boat owners utilise this season to repair their boats, mend the fishnets and prepare new fish nets for the next season to commence after June 15.

Since this period will also give an ample time for the boat owners to build their new mechanised boats for the new season with fresh hopes, construction of the majestic and muscular steel boats and also the fibreglass boats has gathered momentum.

 “If everything is provided to us in the right time, we can build a steel boat within 90 days,” says S. Sunil Kumar of Kollam in Kerala, who started his career as welder in 1999 and has graduated into a leading mechanised steel boat builder now in Thoothukudi district over the past 10 years. While constructing three steel boats in Tharuvaikulam near Thoothukudi, Mr. Sunil is also building seven more steel vessels in Vembar, a coastal hamlet also in Thoothukudi district.

“A group of Andaman-based owners is in touch with us for building steel boats,” he says.

Even though owning steel boats is a costly affair, most of the boat owners go in for these vessels as the life of these boats is more than 15 years while the wooden and the fibreglass boats require regular maintenance. A fiberglass boat cost ₹ 15 lakh less than the steel boats.

 “If we do not maintain properly wooden boats every year, it will not be seaworthy after 5 years whereas the annual coat of paint for the steel boats is enough to extend steel boat’s life beyond even 20 years. Moreover, the steel boats are safe in case of any accidents like collision with other boats and ships on high seas,” says D. Raja of Tharuvaikulam while supervising the fabrication of a steel boat for his younger brother in the boat yard on Tharuvaikulam shore.

After spending for ₹ 50 lakh alone for the steel sheets to be used for building the craft, the owners have to spend another ₹ 1 crore towards engine, wood work to be done, electrical works, GPS, echo sounder, fishnets etc. So, the cost of a full-fledged steel boat is ₹ 1.50 crore now if it is built with the prescribed specification of 24 meter length, 22 feet width and 240 horsepower engine. If the boat is built with an increased length, width and high power engine, the cost will escalate further.

If the owner wants to use high quality steel sheets being used for building fishing trawlers or the ships with the specification prescribed by the government, he would have to spend not less than ₹ 4 crore for sailing his boat for fishing. And, the minimum cost of paints that can withstand the saltwater is ₹ 900 per litre. “If you are rich, you can go in for costly paints costing about ₹ 2,400 a litre,” says Mr. Sunil.

These boats being built for deep sea stay fishing in the Indian Ocean can carry up to 1,000 ice bars, 12,000 litre water and 8,000 litre diesel, besides 13 fishermen.

“Depth in the places where we fish usually would be beyond 3,000 feet and we go up to the areas with 6,000 feet depth, where we get tuna, sword fish etc. with gillnet. It will take three days to reach the fishing grounds in Indian Ocean from our base in Tharuvaikulam and we return to the shore again for selling our catches after 10 or 12 days. Sometime, it will go beyond 15 days if we don’t get decent harvest,” says a fisherman Bhagyaraj of Tharuvaikulam, which now has around 250 mechanised boats, all involved in multiday deep sea stay fishing.

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