More than 75 mechanised boats, all built in violation of government norms and continue to operate from Thoothukudi Fishing Harbour, face an uncertain future after officials refused to register these boats. Of the 265 mechanised boats operating from the harbour – involved in 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. fishing operations – more than 75 vessels have been constructed in violation of norms laid by the State government.

As per Tamil Nadu Marine Fishing Regulation Rules, mechanised fishing boats should not be longer than 24 metres and should be hauled by the engine not exceeding 240 horsepower. If a boat is built in violation of these specifications, they would not be registered and so would not also get subsidised diesel of 1,500 litres a month. If these unregistered boats are involved in any high-sea mishaps, no compensation or insurance benefits would be given.

Still, most of the boats being built in Thoothukudi district daringly violate these norms. When officials of the Department of Fisheries checked the specifications of the mechanised boats ahead of the end of annual fishing ban on June 15, they found that more than 75 boats were been built in violation of the norms and had been used for fishing.

“Most of the boats now being built in Thoothukudi are longer (up to 30 metres) and fitted with engines with the horsepower up to 500 HP, far exceeding the permitted 240 HP. Hence, these boats cannot be registered. They are, however, allowed to go for fishing without any government assistance like subsidised diesel even though they are allowed to be berthed in the fishing harbour. As the norm is not clear on whether such boats should be impounded, we cannot do anything,” a Fisheries Department official said, adding that mechanised boats in all other places of Tamil Nadu strictly followed the norms. “Only in Thoothukudi and Kanniyakumari districts, it is a problem,” he said.

Since most of the fishermen, after fishing practices have undergone sweeping changes, are switching over to either fibreglass or steel wide-body boats with increased length of up to 30 metres instead of traditional wooden craft due to lesser maintenance, these larger vessels have to necessarily be fitted with powerful engines. Many boat owners have fitted their vessels with imported Cummins or Caterpillar engines or overhauled second-hand engines sourced from deep borewell engines.

“This is not the first time that the owners are told to set right the violations… Even though we’re giving these instructions for the past several years when we inspect the boats ahead of the annual fishing ban, they refuse to adhere to the norms. So, we cannot help them,” said another official.

The source confided that the violation was continuing with the ‘blessings’ of a couple of officials. Representatives of boat owners’ association and affected owners are trying to meet Minister for Fisheries Anita R. Radhakrishnan and senior officials of Fisheries Department in Chennai in a bid to get the licence before June 15. Joint Director of Fisheries, Thoothukudi, Amal Xavier said: “We’ll go by what the norms say”.