With sunken boats near Kochi shipping channel not salvaged, fears of more marine accidents remain

Onus of removing wreckage lay with boat owners, say Port Trust sources

The incidents in which a traditional fishing boat with in-board engine and a mechanised fishing vessel sank off the coast of Vypeen, close to the Kochi shipping channel, have triggered concerns about the retrieval of sunken boats to prevent future accidents.

A total of 57 fishermen from the traditional boat (St. Antony) and mechanised fishing vessel (Ashiqmon) were rescued by fellow fishers. The traditional boat with in-board engine sank in the early hours of Wednesday after it ran into the remains of the mechanised boat, which had gone down on the night of Tuesday around 9.30 p.m. The accident on Tuesday night occurred after the mechanised fishing vessel ran into the debris of a previously sunken vessel.

The two incidents forced the fishers’ unions to approach the Cochin Port Trust with a request to help remove the remains of the sunken vessels to make fishing operations smoother. However, Port Trust sources said on Thursday that the onus of removing the sunken vessels and wreckage lay with the owners of the boat. They also said that the owner of the fishing vessel that sank on Wednesday morning had sought permission to remove the remains and the Port Trust had granted permission for the same.

Port Trust sources also said that the office had issued a notice to the owner of the vessel that had sunk earlier and to the State Fisheries Department to remove the wreckage. They said if any vessel sank within the shipping channel it was for the Port Trust to clear the shipping channel. In such cases, the wreckage was removed and the cost of the operations recovered from the owner of the vessel. The shipping channel, jointly shared by the Navy, Cochin Shipyard, Cochin International Transshipment Terminal, Port Trust, and the LNG terminal operator, is maintained by the Port Trust.

P.V. Jayan of the Paramparagatha Matsya Thozhilali Union representing traditional fishers in Vypeen said there were two boats that had sunk in the fishing channel off the Vypeen coast that posed a grave threat to the operations of fishing vessels. The vessel Poornasree had sunk in May 2021, and Ashiqmon sank on Tuesday night.

Sources close to the fisheries sector said most of the fishing vessels did not have insurance cover as the boat owners considered the premium too high. As a result, they were unable to engage in recovery and removal of sunken vessels. The operations, engaging salvaging companies, were costly, they said. It was one of the reasons why the remains of several vessels continued to be left in the places where they went under water.

Meanwhile, efforts are under way to salvage the remains of the fishing vessel St. Antony using a floating crane. The fishing vessel is being salvaged at the expense of the fishers and the boat owner.

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