Kerala tragedy: 2 dead, 8 missing as boat capsizes at the mouth of Muthalapozhi harbour

Failure to prevent silting by periodical dredging turned the harbour mouth at Muthalapozhi into a deathtrap for traditional fishers.

ByK A Shaji

Published Sep 05, 2022 | 8:35 PM Updated Sep 05, 2022 | 8:36 PM

Muthalapozhi

Two fish workers died and eight others were missing when the boat they returned in after the day’s catch capsized close to the mouth of the fishing harbour at Muthalapozhi near Kerala capital Thiruvananthapuram on Monday, September 5.

Meanwhile, 12 other fish workers, who formed part of the team, managed to escape.

Accusing the coastal police of lapses in rescue operations, the local community gheraoed the Muthalapozhi Police Station around 4 pm on Monday and warned that further protests would be mounted if the lackadaisical attitude continued.

Coast Guard and additional coastal police battalions are reaching Muthalapozhi while this report was filed.

Rescue work initiated by fellow fish workers was underway in Muthalapozhi.

The fish workers said there was no advance warning from the authorities on possible shifts in wind patterns.

Experts and fish workers pointed out that the mouth of Muthalapozhi fishing harbour turned into a death trap eight years ago when major corporate Adani initiated the construction of a breakwater there to build a wharf that could carry construction materials, including big rock pieces, for completing deep sea construction works for the Vizhinjam international seaport.

The construction adversely affected the seasonal back-and-forth shifting of silt at the Muthalapozhi fishing harbour.

Currently, Adani is locked in a dispute with Kerala’s Harbour Engineering Department over the responsibility to regularly desilt the harbour mouth, facilitating a safe passage for fishing boats in different seasons.

According to coastal expert AJ Vijayan, silting has drastically reduced the depth of the harbour mouth, which is why boats are frequently capsizing there.

According to him, underwater sandbars of the backwater are causing strong conflicting currents and powerful eddies, and they spell doom for approaching fishing boats.

Fr Benny Chiramel, a Jesuit priest who coordinates the protests of fish workers, said 66 fishers had died because of capsizing boats near the harbour mouth ever since the constructions began. Over 200 fish workers suffered debilitating injuries when the boats capsized.

In each accident, fishing equipment and boats worth lakhs of rupees were destroyed.

“Neither the government nor Adani attempted any effort to mitigate the danger. Many fish-worker families lost their breadwinners. Their survivors have no choice but to ignore the risk while going into the sea again, knowing that their safe return would be risky,” said Chirammel.

Kerala lacks a proper marine rescue system despite having a 550-km-long coastline. The police and Fisheries Department rescue boats lack the required number of crew and marine rescue experts. Fish workers demand a permanent dredging mechanism to prevent harbour mouths from silting up.

According to fish worker J Krithudas, the breakwater construction was carried out without adequately studying the wave pattern in the region. The rocks meant to prevent the waves are altering wave patterns, he claimed.

The narrow pathway between the breakwater and the harbour mouth has also become tricky for small boats, he said.

Around 400 boats operate out of the Muthalapozhi harbour, which attracts large boat operators, an added disadvantage for fishermen using smaller boats.