With the monsoon fishing season in full swing, vessels using China-made Automatic Identification System (AIS) devices continue to create confusion among maritime law enforcement agencies.
Despite the government providing transponders at subsidised rates, trawlers from various harbours in Kerala have been venturing into the sea with cheap Chinese gadgets that cause multiple issues concerning coastal security. Recently, the Intelligence and the Coast Guard flagged the problem as these craft transmit the wrong country code, identifying themselves as Chinese vessels.
“The issue was raised at a coastal security meeting as these craft mislead our agencies. It’s not possible to monitor from the coast these vessels which generate another set of problems that include illegal fishing,” says a fisheries official.
Reportedly, large trawlers fishing off the Kerala coast opt for Chinese substitutes as they help them hide the location of their fishing grounds. Often, trawlers do not want to share areas where marine wealth is abundant, fishing grounds that offer a good and steady harvest.
“The vessels that use government-provided device can be monitored from the control room on the coast. They are opting for the Chinese system so that they can protect the set of coordinates. They source the device from boat-building yards and agents,” he adds.
The use of these gadget also creates glitches when it comes to enforcement and tracing of illegal fishing activities.
“We cannot get accurate location of these vessels and find violations. If the trawlers fish in less than 20 m deep waters, it is illegal, but these devices can trick us. If they use the proper system, it will be easy for us to coordinate with the Navy or Coast Guard during rescue operations and solve the confusion related to catch certificates,” says the official.
According to the Coast Guard, these trawlers relaying wrong country codes and navigation-related information also pose a serious threat to national security. The claim about opting for the Chinese device due to its low price is baseless, says an official.
“The vessel monitoring system offered by the government costs around ₹1 lakh, but they can get it at ₹26,000 after subsidy. Just like the AIS, this system also helps them to track nearby vessels and avoid mid-sea collisions. The amount is not unaffordable for huge trawlers worth ₹1 crore to ₹1.5 crore that remain anchored in the sea for days,” says the official.