Growing discontentment among fishermen off Kollam coast, haunted by 'ghost' ship

Growing discontentment among fishermen off Kollam coast, haunted by 'ghost' ship

On June 25, when the unoccupied dredger Hansita washed up ashore at Mundakkal beach situated in the Kollam coastal belt, the local residents did not have much cause for worry. The waves pounding on the metal made a bit of a racket, but there seemed to be no immediate danger from the slightly rusted, almost 100-metre-long vessel. On the contrary, tourists started flowing in-- a disproportionately high number for even the busiest season of the year. The beach teemed with excited newly-weds posing for glamour shots and post-wedding video sessions and sweaty families cradling bawling babies in one had and madly clicking cameras in the other. An occasional daredevil would even attempt to scale the vessel for that elusive selfie; all of them wanted Hansita in the background. But soon, signs of trouble manifested. According to the fishermen, unseasonal sea erosion triggered by the presence of the vessel, which acted as a breakwater by the coast, has swallowed up the shores and placed the livelihood of hundreds of fishermen and their family at risk. “ Our coastline is completely eroded now. Around 15 houses have been destroyed. Our traditional fishermen community is suffering, and yet, the government does nothing about it. There is practically no shore left, and the sea is further threatening to take over the coastal road,” says Jayan Michel, a resident of Kakkathope near Mundakkal beach. Helmed by Michel, a Theeradesha Samrakshana Samithi (coastal protection forum) had, in August, blocked the Chinnakkada Roundabout to protest the delay in towing the ship away from the shore.

The vessel Hansita, owned by Mumbai based Megha Dredging Private Limited, had docked at the Kollam port for repairs. The repairs had dragged on until the ship accumulated almost Rs 40 lakh in dues. A deadlock ensued, with the port authorities refusing to let go of the vessel until the repair fees were paid in full. The vessel was later anchored in the sea, three nautical miles off the coast. “It stayed there for around two years, undermanned and lacking experienced sailors. Its anchor dragged, which is a very common phenomenon, and the vessel drifted onto the shores,” says Kollam port officer Abraham Joseph. Tugging proved ineffective, and with each passing day, the vessel found itself lodged deeper into a rock-hard sand bed and a legal tangle between the port authority and the ship owners. The district administration had directed that the vessel be removed as soon as possible.  “The problem here is that the waves deposit silt at a faster rate than we can remove them,” says Joseph. “Dredging is the only option left now. We were informed that the process would commence by September 5, and that the ship would be towed away by September 11. But so far, no action has been taken,” says Michel. According to the Kollam District Collector T.Mithra ,IAS, the deadline set by the courts to remove the ship ended on September 19. “Earlier, it was our intention to remove the ship as a joint effort with the Kerala Minerals and Metals Limited(KMML). However, the high tide rendered the dredging process impossible. Now that the deadline has expired, we will discuss with the port authority on what measures, legal or otherwise, that can be pursued,” says the District Collector. 

But how did this erosion even occur? The fishermen attribute the sudden and untimely erosion to the 'Vadakkan Thallal' waves, which regularly deposits silt on the shores, swirling and crashing off the vessel, thus forcefully eroding the shores. A double whammy, they say. Or is there, as is the allegation from some official quarters, a deliberate misinformation campaign being spread amongst the fishermen community for political gain? “An erosion of such magnitude has never before been experienced in this area, not even when coastlines just kilometres away were ravaged. We have already lost our prayer centre and multiple playgrounds. Our fishing boats are now tied to a tree by the coastal road, as the shores have been taken over by the sea,” says Michel. However, sources in the administration question the scientific logic of such arguments. Even if the ship could be blamed for the erosion, how would the effects of a 100-metre-long breakwater (vessel) be felt 2 km away? “The presence of the ship certainly does have an impact, as it expedites erosion on one side and accretion on the other. While its impact will not be felt one kilometre away, the presence of the ship would certainly be an impediment to the littoral drift by the shores. Its effects will worsen by monsoon,” said a top official at the harbour engineering department, who wished to remain unnamed.  Babu, manager of the vessel Hansita, told THE WEEK that all measures were being taken to tow the ship away. “The sea erosion and all are due to natural causes,” he said.

THE REAL VICTIMS

Francis, a fisherman who lived for the past 35 years in the Mundakkal beach, watched in consternation as his four room house partially collapsed in the sea erosion. He, along with his wife and two daughters, shifted into the nearby Amritakulam Mundakkal LPS School. A recently constructed school block is now home to around five families who suffered the same fate as Francis. “There is a shortage of electricity and water. As a result, it is difficult to get my daughters to school. Also, I have to go out and work at night. It is scary for me to leave my family like that. For one thing, I am more afraid of the stray dogs than humans. The sea erosion is such that rocks that I have not seen in the past three decades have started appearing,” he laughs. The rest of the families who lost their homes are currently settled at the homes of their neighbours or relatives. “Around five families are settled in the new block of the Amritakulam school. We have sent a request to the Government to have them resettled into the tsunami flats,” says Tehsildar Gopalakrishnan. Francis, a fisherman who lived for the past 35 years in the Mundakkal beach, watched in consternation as his four-room house partially collapsed in the sea erosion. He, along with his wife and two daughters, shifted into the nearby Amritakulam Mundakkal LP School. A recently constructed school block is now home to around five families who suffered the same fate as Francis. “There is a shortage of electricity and water. As a result, it is difficult to get my daughters to school. Also, I have to go out and work at night. It is scary for me to leave my family like that.  I am more afraid of the stray dogs than humans. The sea erosion is such that rocks that I have not seen in the past three decades have started appearing,” he says. The rest of the families who lost their houses are currently settled at the homes of their neighbours or relatives. “Around five families are settled in the new block of the Amritakulam school. We have sent a request to the Government to have them resettled into the tsunami flats,” says tehsildar P.R. Gopalakrishnan. 

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Topics : #Kerala

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