VIDEO: Dark Tide: Fishermen sail into ‘mouth of death’ at Muthalapozhi, Kerala harbour that has claimed 70 lives

Going to fish from the Muthalappozhi Harbour is risky. Fisherman Davidson Anthony Adima narrates his story in an 11-minute film.

ByMax Martin

Published Jul 23, 2023 | 11:00 AMUpdatedJul 23, 2023 | 11:00 AM

Muthalapozhi harbour death trap

Davidson Anthony Adima, in his early 40s, started fishing in the sea when he was 12. He loves fishing, but he says the Muthalapozhi estuary looks like a trap.

Beyond the mist of time, a five-year-old city boy, awed by the sprawling blue-green backwaters and splashes of green all around, did not know that. This reporter was on his way back from Anjengo to his ancestral village further south across the estuary on a ferry boat propelled manually with a pole.

Related: A lethal trap code-named Muthalapozhi Mini-Fishing Harbour

There was nice breeze, and the boy did not notice the boat drifting slowly towards the sea. The elderly ferryman tried to straighten the course, but he could not. People started shouting from the shore to move the boat as far away from the mouth of the estuary as possible. A grand aunt on board started reciting the rosary. Just in case. In all probability, it was a narrow escape.

It still is for the hundreds of fishers who cross this point. Especially during the monsoon.

Fishers say that breakwaters of the harbour are placed too close one another for safe passage, with accumulated silt and flow from the backwaters turning waves unpredictable, high and dangerous.

Fishers thrown overboard cannot easily swim to safety because of the currents, eddies and boulders lining the harbour.

Environmentalists were sceptical back in the 1980s when local fishers demanded a harbour here. That meant permanently opening the estuary mouth, altering the flow from the backwaters fed by rivers. The scenic estuary, described as a placed marked by crocodiles (muthalakal in Malayalam) in the 14th century poem Unnuneelisandesham, was also known for dangerous currents and small whirlpools.

Related: Why blood-thirsty Muthalapozhi in Kerala gobbles up lives

It was a time when the fishers were getting organised, escaping stark poverty, and outboard engines changing fishing. They cannot launch boats, canoes and rafts from the local sandy shores in the fury of the monsoon waves.

The habour was built in the early 2000s, and it was in use before it was commissioned in 2020. There were many accidents, reviews, structural modifications. Official figures note that 69 people have died here in the past 10 years; and there were 700 accidents.

Adima narrates the story of his risky journey while going to fish on what he calls a calm day. Our cinematographer, who was also on board, says it was not quite so. Over to the film.