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A Fisherman’s Job Hazards

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What a separate tragedy related to the Italian shooting reveals

In the story of the two Kerala fishermen shot dead by Italian marines, there is another tragedy. On 15 February, when Italian marines on board the Enrica Lexie shot at the boat St Antony, Francis Justin, a fisherman, had taken the lead role in rescue operations. He informed the police of the incident. The remains of the two who had been shot dead were brought ashore in Justin’s boat.

At midnight on 1 March, 16 days after the incident, Francis Justin also died in the same waters when his boat was hit by an unidentified vessel. Justin’s colleague Xavier Antony was also killed, and three others went missing. The debris of the damaged boat was found lying at a depth of about 50 metres near the accident site by the Indian Navy.

Don-1, Justin’s fishing boat, was hit 13 nautical miles off the Cherthala coast in Alappuzha district. According to survivors, despite sending repeated alarms, the ship steered towards the shore across the shipping channel and hit the boat. They also say the ship’s lights were turned off and it sped away immediately after the incident. The vessel was later identified as MV Prabhudaya, owned by the Mumbai-based firm Tolani Shipping, which was sailing to Singapore. The state government has ruled out the possibility of deliberate intent.

“There are recurring incidents of deep sea accidents,” says Charles George, president of the United Fish Workers Association. “But fishermen get no security or protection.” The United Fish Workers Association says 18 such accidents have been reported since 2003. The Coast Guard and Indian Navy have shown little interest in safeguarding fishermen, says Maglin Peter,  convener of Theera Desa Mahila Vedi, an organisation of fisherwomen in Kerala.

A coastal police officer says the force owns high-speed patrol boats worth Rs 65 crore, but they are lying unused. “This is not because of a scarcity of expert drivers... we have not recruited people to fill these posts,” says the officer on condition of anonymity. “It took one hour to bring Xavier Antony  ashore in an ordinary fishing boat. His life might have been saved if a speed boat had been used.”