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No proper mechanism to check seaworthiness of fishing trawlers

Abdul Wahab Khan | NT Staff Reporter

PANAJI: The state government, which claims to have been promoting fishing activities in the state, seems to be ignoring the most important aspect relating to safety of the fishing trawlers and its crewmembers.

The fisheries department has no norms to make it mandatory for the fishing trawler operators to have their mechanised vessels inspected annually to ensure seaworthiness. Moreover, the trawler crewmembers, who face risk to life when in deep sea, also lack safety training, which could come handy in case of tragedies.

Goa has around 850 mechanised vessels registered with the fisheries department.

It may be recalled that in September 2014, as many as 31 crewmembers of a fishing trawler, which had run aground off the Miramar beach and was about to sink, were rescued by lifeguards. Similarly, in 2009, two trawlers sunk off the Goa coast and eight other vessels with 39 crewmembers had gone missing in cyclone-ravaged Arabian Sea.

A fisheries department official told this daily that presently the department provides fitness certificate to mechanised vessels “only when they approach us for modification of engine or for changes in the vessel structure.” “The matter ends there as far as the fisheries department’s intervention is concerned,” the official said.

The state’s fisheries department grants licence to mechanised boats, including fishing trawlers engaged in commercial activities, under the Goa Daman and Diu Marine Fishing Regulation Act, 1980 and Rules, 1982 and the Goa Daman and Diu Fishing Rules, 1981. Officials of the department, which is the regulating authority, said that there is no regulatory structure to inspect the vessels for their seaworthiness every year and “we do not find annual fitness certification is necessary as hardly any incidents of vessels sinking have occurred.”

However, fishing trawler owners association indicates a need for the annual fitness certification. “We are ready to get our vessels inspected every year taking into consideration factors like seaworthiness, safety of life and vessel stability. The fitness certificate is issued at the time of registration of the vessel and whenever the trawler operator wants to carry out vessel modification,” said Menino Afonso, chairman of Mandovi Fishermen Marketing Co-operative Society.

The fisheries department has only one patrol vessel with a quick response team. The vessel was purchased two years back in order to conduct patrolling in inland and sea waters. The department had also devised a scheme with 75 per cent subsidy and made it mandatory for the trawler operators to install tracking system, life jackets and buoyants in their vessels.

“There are hardly any inspections carried out to check the compliance and many trawler owners have not made the life jackets and buoyants available on their vessels thereby risking the lives of their crew,” said Afonso. The fisheries department only gives subsidy to install the tracking system, life jackets and buoyants, but no training and inspection has been conducted for successful implementation of the scheme.

Clarifying on this, a fisheries department official said, “There is no proper regulatory framework for the fishing trawlers venturing into the sea, with regard to the safety aspect.”

Expressing the need for an annual fitness certification, a senior official from the Captain of Ports said that it should be made mandatory for these trawlers to have a fitness certificate by the competent authority, who should be the master marina or marine engineer. He recalled the Maritime States Development Council (MSDC) meeting held last year wherein it was decided that fitness of fishing trawlers be undertaken by a competent authority as there was loss of lives at sea.

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