Following the order by the central government marking a shipping corridor along the Kerala coast, fishermen across the state have been protesting. They have said that the indigenous fishing communities will lose their livelihood due to the proposal. The state government has also decided to convey its dissent to the Union government.
Though the organisations including National Fishermen Forum (NFF) are in support of shipping corridors, as they would help avoid collisions of fishing boats and vessels, they say that the new corridor proposed by the Ministry of Shipping would badly hit the livelihood of fishermen in the region. The order has been implemented from August 1.
The routing system in South West Indian Waters, notified by the Director General of Shipping, cuts right through the 200-500 metre depth zone of the Kollam coast. The fishermen are not allowed to fish in this corridor and if they enter in this area, they will be punished.
“The distribution of fish resources is concentrated at the continental shelf and if the corridor is passing through the shelf, it would affect the fishing community. As the corridor cuts through the 200-500 metre depth zone of Kollam, it would be the worst affected area,” said V Vivekanandan, secretary of Fishmarc. At Kollam alone, around 25,000 fishermen are expected to be affected.
The first announcement about the shipping corridor was made in September 2018. A corridor from Kanyakumari to Gujarat at a distance of 20 nautical miles from coast was then suggested. But the fishing community had opposed it, as it was very close to banks. In this context, a national protest was held on November 30, 2018. Though the government had announced the corridor, there had been no discussion with the fishermen community and no rules had been published.
“After that, in a meeting with the Deputy Director General of Shipping, it was informed that no final decision had been taken. At that point, they said that the corridor is from 90 nautical mile West from Mangalore to 40 nautical miles from Kanyakumari. They also assured that fishing won’t be affected,” said Vivekanandan.
Normally, merchant vessels have a right of safe passage and they can go anywhere from one nautical mile to 200 nautical miles during their voyage. The corridor reduces their freedom and encourages them to move in a narrow passage. Since this corridor will be congested, it will not be possible to allow fishing activities in this area. It was also stated that fishing boats can cross the corridor with caution and can fish beyond the corridor. However, it was advised that the lights, reflectors, sensors, and fluorescent paint should be used mandatorily by the fishing boats to avoid collisions, said Vivekandan.
“But later, we came to know that the corridor is only from Kasargod to Kanyakumari. We have ports from Kanyakumari to Gujarat on the West coast. But the new corridor is for the merchant ships heading to various ports in other countries which pass through our sea,” he added.
“The corridors shouldn’t intrude shallow areas beyond the shelf, which are favourable fishing grounds," T Peter from the National Fishworkers Forum (NFF) said.
"This is an important fishing area on the Southwest coast with all motorised, mechanised and deep-sea boats fishing here. The number of fishermen using this area is large and not less than 25,000. This is an unacceptable route for ships," he added.
Kerala Fisheries Minister J Mercykutty Amma has also said that the government will convey its disagreement over the corridor after discussions with various organisations.
“We had submitted a memorandum to the Shipping Ministry in November 2018, urging it to shift the shipping corridor beyond 50 nautical miles to avoid collisions. Many fishermen have been killed as ships moving close to the Kerala coast collided with the fishing boats. However, the Centre ignored our pleas and has fixed the corridor at 12 nautical miles from the coast. The continental shelf which harbours fish schools extends up to 50 nautical miles and the present shipping corridor will affect the livelihood of the fishermen,” said Mercykkutty Amma.
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