The number of accidents involving collision of boats and ships near the coast of Kerala has increased in recent years. According to advocate Yash Thomas Mannully, who has been specialising in such cases since 2000, there were three cases in 2016 where fishing boats collided with ships. But over the period of 2017 and 2018, this increased to about 10 such cases, claiming the lives of several fishermen. The plight of the family of these fishermen, however, does not end there. The lack of a proper mechanism to receive compensation push these families into desperate conditions.
In most of the cases, families often have to engage lawyers and rush to the High Court just after the tragedy to secure compensation and to prevent the ships from leaving the coast. Even lawyers handling such cases accept that families, especially the widows of such fishermen, have to go through an ordeal.
In the backdrop of such instances, the High Court of Kerala on Saturday directed the central and state governments to provide support for the widows and children of these fishermen. The order was issued while hearing the petition on the death of four fishermen of fishing vessel âImmanuelâ, which was rammed by an unidentified ship off the Beypore coast in Kerala, on October 11, 2017.
âThe plight of the petitioners is pathetic. When women become widows in such accidents, it is the bounden duty of the state to provide adequate protection and support for their survival. However, it is distressing to note that no such help has been so far extended to the petitioners from the side of authorities concerned, not even as an interim relief,â observed the order issued by Justice B Sudheendra Kumar.
The Court has sought an explanation from the state government regarding the criteria for disbursing compensation.
In addition to an explanation from the Central government, the Chief Secretary of the state has also been asked to provide an explanation by February 22 regarding the provisions of funds available in the event of such mishaps and about the criteria for providing compensation to dependents of the victim. The court has also directed the government to provide details of such compensations given to the families of fishermen after January 2018 (apart from victims of recent deluge) and about the details of kin of the victims who have been provided jobs, if there are any.
Case history of âImmanuelâ
Thirunelveli native Karthik, along with five other fishermen went to sleep on the night of October 11, 2017, after a hectic day of deep sea fishing about 50 nautical miles from Beypore coast. Around 9 pm, the boat was hit by a ship and four of them, including Syrang, the operator of the ship, went missing. Karthik and Xavier, another fishermen, were rescued by another fishing boat after 14 hours. Kanyakumari native Antony and Remmiyas, Johnson and Prince, natives of Poonthura in Thiruvananthapuram, went missing and only Antonyâs body was found later.
âThough a case was registered, the probe conducted was not satisfactory for the families of the deceased fishermen. On December 2017, Karthik filed a petition in High Court demanding a scientific investigation of the case. A foreign vessel MV Hyundai Global was detained for 55 days following this. In July 2018, Remsha Rani, wife of deceased fisherman Antony, filed a petition in the High Court, alleging discrepancies in the enquiry. But on October 2018, coastal police closed the case stating that there was no proper evidence,â said advocate Yash Thomas Mannully, counsel for Reshma.Â
In January 24, 2019, the case was again brought to the High Court by the family of the deceased fishermen, requesting to issue a direction to the state and central government to locate the ship. Understanding that the petitioners have filed the writ petition requesting compensation for the losses, the court, by word, had asked the state government about the possibilities of interim relief.
Since the government did not give any statement on the matter, the court issued a written order on Saturday regarding this.
Unending concerns of the fishermen
According to Charles George, president of Swathanthra Matsya Thozhilali Union (a trade union of small-scale artisanal fishers), ships do not often follow the rules of Indian Maritime Organisation while intercepting boats at sea. âIn most boat accidents, it could be found that the ships have not complied with these laws,â said Charles.
He elucidates some of these guidelines. “As per the rules, when a ship intercepts a fishing vessel or another boat in its way, it should firstÂ try if radio communication is possible. If the vessel does not move away from the path, they can use signalling fires to get their attention. If the vessel still does not move away, theÂ ship should pump water jets at the boat. and then shoot towards the sky to give a final warning. Only after all these warnings, can a ship fire towards the boat.”
Even in the case of infamous ‘Enrica Lexie’ ship, where Italian marines shot and killed two Kerala fishermen, these steps were not followed, added Charles.
âLack of proper monitoring surveillance in harbours is another significant factor contributing to these accidents. The authorities show the least concern to ensure the fishing boats meet the safety standards,â he said.