To ensure the safety of fishing boats, various fishermen’s associations in the State are demanding a Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) for merchant ships for the eastern coast as well. A similar TSS covering the western coast of the country from Maharashtra till some distance beyond Kanniyakumari in Tamil Nadu, has been proposed by the Central government.
Indian Fishermen Association’s M.D. Dayalan said that such a TSS would definitely help fishermen. “Even last month, a fishing boat that was anchored off a port in Andhra Pradesh was sunk after being hit by a merchant ship. Luckily, nobody was hurt since those aboard were awake,” he said.
Nanjil Ravi of Akila Indhiya Meenavar Sangam said many times when fishing boats go missing at sea for no reason, it is due to being hit by big ships. “Our nets get damaged since ships can enter any point in the sea. While fishing boats above a certain horsepower have restrictions on fishing close to the coast, ships have none. There is an urgent need to draw up an act to ensure the safety of fishermen in the sea. The TSS must however not take up too much of the fishing grounds and such a corridor must be fixed after due consultation with the fishers here.” he said.
A former official of the Fisheries Department said that other countries had their own shipping corridors where fishermen do not fish. “The United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides provisions for innocent passage of ships in times of need or distress. The Director General of Shipping has rights to ensure safe passage of ships with the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ),” he said.
Senior advocate V.J. Mathew, who is also the chairman of the Kerala Maritime Board, however, said that having such a corridor was not practical and that it contradicted the UNCLOS, which is also referred to as the Law of the Sea Convention. “India has sovereign rights only upto 12 nautical miles (NM), upto 25 NM is the contiguous zone that is used as customs waters and for national security purpose. Upto 200 NM, which is called the EEZ, we only have right for preservation, exploration, and fishing… we have no sovereign right over it,” he explained.