Rare hit and sail mishap ends in watery grave for fisherman
Two fishermen narrowly escaped while a third died after their tiny boat reportedly collided with a container ship in a rare hit and sail mishap off the coast of Wattala, mishap earlier this month, the International Transport workers Federation (ITF) said this week.
The ship, believed to belong to the Evergreen Shipping Company and identified as Ever Smile bearing IMO Number 9300415 later berthed at the Kaohsiung Port in Taiwan after leaving Colombo, local ITF Inspector Ranjan Perera said.
He said according to a police statement made by the two survivors the incident had occurred in the early hours of September 3, during poor weather conditions.
The body of the fisherman who died was washed ashore on the Chilaw Beach five days after the incident. He was identified as Neville Joseph, father of a 12-year-old boy.
“We believe that the ship involved was the British-flagged Ever Smile since maritime movements at the time of the incident pointed out that this particular vessel was the only one in the vicinity. Apart from that there was no other evidence except for some green paint mark on the fishing craft believed to be from the container ship.
“The offending vessel Ever Smile or otherwise had however failed on its part to maintain maritime regulations since it did not report the incident after berthing at the Colombo Port,” Mr. Perera said.
Even after the mishap the ship’s crew had not fired flares to seek help in looking for survivors but opted to sail on and it entered the Colombo Port around 5.30 a.m where it was berthed until 9.30 p.m. before it left the country’s waters, Mr. Perera charged.
He said that the ITF offices in London and Taiwan have been alerted about the matter, adding that it was too early to confirm that it was this particular vessel that was involved in the incident until more investigations were conducted.
He said that the vessel should have picked up the fishing boat on its radar system prior to the mishap. “Either the radar was down or was not being monitored at the time of the incident,” he added.
However, Captain A. V. Rajendra with the Ever Green firm in Colombo said that the involvement of this particular vessel in the incident should be firmly ruled out because the Wattala coast was never on the ship’s sailing route. “This vessel sails from the west and enters the Colombo Port from the south of the country passing Panadura, Moratuwa, Dehiwala, Wellawatte, Bambalapitiya, Kollupitiya and Galle Face before reaching Colombo harbour.
So the area of Wattala or even Negombo further up is no where in the frame,” he explained.He added that maritime traffic on the Wattala-Negombo sea sector involves mainly small vessels heading for Indian Ports and the Ever Smile of 75246 ton deadweight.
Lal Nissanka-a spokesperson with the fishing community in Dikkowita-Hendala said that the two fishermen who survived the mishap had used flashlights in a bid to search for the third man who fell over board but having failed had returned to the shore and informed the rest of them.
“Several of us later set out in different boats and we searched the sea for several hours without any luck. The current was strong at that time and the victim may have been carried by the current into deeper waters. We later informed the police and the ITF about the incident,” he said.
The autopsy revealed that the fisherman had died due to drowning, suggesting that he was alive when he fell overboard, Mr. Nissanka added.
Life jacket could have saved fisherman’s life
Authorities have repeated calls for boat owners to provide lifejackets for the fishermen on their payroll.
“The recent death at Wattala could have been easily avoided if the victim was clad in a life jacket. It appears that this was not the case and the man had drowned apparently because he was a poor swimmer,” Fisheries Secretary Damitha de Zoysa told the Sunday Times.
She added that the life jacket is mandatory but many boat owners ignored the rule, concentrating only on their catch from the sea with little consideration for the safety of the fishing crew.Under the Bay of Bengal Programme (BBP) that groups Sri Lanka along with India, The Maldives and Bangladesh, safety has been always on top of the agenda and several awareness programmes have been carried out to educate the stake holders in the industry, Dr. de Zoysa said.
She added, recently, 5,000 life jackets that were bought with financial assistance from the Spanish were handed over to fishermen in Chilaw and Kalpitiya.
“However, we cannot be doing this all the timea nd those reaping the profits in the industry must shoulder more responsibility. The time has now come for stringent action to be taken againstthe errant boat owners who do not adhere to safety regulations,” Dr. de Zoysa said.
Our future’s bleak says widow
Fourty-year-old Rupanandani the widow of the dead fisherman is seeking divine help to carry on with life and bring up her 12-year-old son.
“So far I have survived due to help and hand outs from relatives, neighbours and friends since that tragic day but the future looks bleak,” she lamented to the Sunday Times.
She added that tragedy appeared to have stalked her late husband even before his untimely death.
Several years ago he was shot and wounded on his leg during a protest against sand mining for the construction of the nearby expressway she said.
Increase in maritime traffic keep fishermen at bay
Several fishermen in the Wattala area fear to go out to sea owing to the constant movement of large vessels entering and leaving the Colombo Port.
They said that ship movements had increased in the area following the construction of a reef on the southern side of the Colombo Port that has compelled vessels to take a de route through the Wattala area.
They claimed that vessels entering the Colombo Port from the southern end of the country must also sail past this reef towards Wattala and then turn back towards the port and this had led to an increase in maritime traffic in the region.
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