Thiruvananthapuram: News of two innocent Indian fishermen being shot dead by Italian sailors off the Kerala coast caused a national outrage that resulted in their arrest. But for those who earn a living from the sea, the daily struggle, replete with such dangers, continues.
Wilfred Gomez, 62, a fisherman by profession, told reporters, "This is our job, hazards like this have existed for ages. The attention we are getting is shortlived; the media will forget about the shooting incident in a few days."
He was referring to Wednesday`s incident off the Alappuzha coast in the Arabian Sea in which the crew of an Italian merchant vessel shot dead two fishermen - one from Kerala and the other from neighbouring Tamil Nadu - after mistaking them for pirates.
Rued Gomez: "It is our hard work that contribute to the country`s economy by way of sea food exports. But we have no one to look into our problems. For us, this is the only vocation we know and whatever dangers are lurking in the sea, we have no other alternative but to face it every day."
In Kerala, the fishing industry occupies an important place in the economy. Its share in the national marine fish production is close to 25 percent. While there are more than 100,000 men involved in inland fisheries, there are close to 350,000 fishermen engaged in the marine fishing operations. The Kerala coastline is 590 km long and there are nine fishing harbours and 17 fish landing centres in the state.
During 2010-11, the export earnings crossed $2.8 billion for the first time in the history of marine product exports from the country. This is also the first time exports have crossed all previous records in quantity, rupee value and US dollar terms.
C. Pious, state committee member of the CPI-M-backed Matysa Thozhilali Union, the organisation of fisher folk in the state, said the police uproar about taking action may amount to nothing.
He said the case may not stand in court because of technicalities about international waters.
"The first step the central government should do is to repeal the present Fisheries Act which was set up in 1926 during the British era under which the international waters in our country begins just after 24 nautical miles. Other countries like the US and Japan have their territory for as long as 300 nautical miles," he said.
"So this case may not stand in court and those who committed the crime will walk away because the case pertains to violation of international waters," said Pious.
The shooting incident, however, is reported to have taken place around 14 nautical miles off Alappuzha.
According to Xavier Kalapurrackal, president of the All Kerala Boat Operators Association, this is probably the first time the Coast Guard has taken a tough stand on the death of fishermen.
"In the past, three to four cases of big vessels hitting small boats were a common feature and since they happen at night, no one is in a position to even identify the guilty vessels that speed away," said Kalapurrackal.
The fishermen or those involved in marine fishing activities set out to the sea and return home only after a week. The hard life has made many turn to other means of living.
"We have been a fishing family for the past two generations and life has been so tough for all of us that we decided that our children should not come into this profession," Mary Lopez, a fish monger in the capital, said.
"We are working hard to give them a reasonable education so that they can go for some other profession."