Operators of Roll on/Roll off (Ro-Ro) vessels servicing between Ernakulam’s Vypeen Island and Fort Kochi are concerned over the risk of speeding fishing boats colliding with their ferries. The operators expressed their concerns in the wake of a fishing boat colliding with one of the Ro-Ro vessels on Friday evening at around 7.30 pm. A fishing trawler which was entering Vypin shores from the open sea collided with the Ro-Ro vessel, injuring two passengers.
The two Ro-Ro vessels (Sethusagar 1 and 2) operate between Fort Kochi and Vypeen Island, which is separated by an estuary formed by the opening of Vembanad Lake into the Arabian Sea. Hundreds of fishing boats which are stationed at the Cochin Fisheries Harbour in Thoppumpady and some which halt at Vypeen Island cross the estuary daily to go to the sea and return the same way.
Even cruise ships which halt at the Willingdon Island or those ships which are to be docked in Cochin Shipyard have to cross this estuary where the Ro-Ro operates. With the commission of the International Cruise Terminal by Cochin Port at Willingdon Island, traffic of ships will also likely increase.
The accident on Friday occurred when a trawler fishing boat was returning to Vypeen Island from the sea. The boat was speeding towards the shore with another fishing boat tied up to it.
According to Ajith Kumar, one of the operators of Ro-Ro ferry service, the fishing boat had not turned on the lights. “It came and hit one of the sides of the Ro-Ro vessel but luckily nothing much happened. Two passengers, who were standing in the vessel lost their balance and got some scratches. The portion where the boat hit the side of the vessel has been slightly distorted,” he said.
Though this is the first time a fishing boat was colliding with the Ro-Ro vessel, helmsmen of Ro-Ro services are apprehensive about speeding fishing boats. The Ro-Ro operators allege that fishing boats are operated very carelessly while crossing the estuary. “If they were careful and concerned about the ferry service which transports hundreds of passengers in a day, they would have lowered the speed of the boat. At least during night time, they could have been extra cautious and turned on the lights of the boat,” said Ajith Kumar.
Ajith also said that blame would have been put on the Ro-Ro operators if any tragedy had occurred. “We have reported the incident to our management, we hope they will push the matter among the fishing boat operators to make them understand the problem,” he said.
Meanwhile M Majeed, general secretary of Long Line And Gillet Boats Association of Cochin Fisheries Harbour told TNM that both fishing boat and Ro-Ro operators should equally be careful in their operation.
In 2015, eleven people had lost their lives in the Fort Kochi boat tragedy, when a fishing boat collided with a passenger boat. It was after this boat accident, Kochi Corporation decided to commission Ro-Ro vessel service. After much delay, the Ro-Ro service was started in May 2018.