Column: Ensure Safe Boat Rides

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Media reports about the ban on the use of fishing boats and unsafe vessels for ferrying tourists to the famous Hukitola island in Kendrapara district being flouted openly should be taken seriously by the authorities. The district had witnessed a major tragedy last year when an over-crowded fishing boat had capsized killing ten tourists, most of them children.

Though the mishap had prompted the administration to ban fishing vessels and other unsafe crafts from carrying passengers the directive is being followed more in its violation. Hordes of tourists take rides in rickety boats every day to reach the island and other places of interest in the adjoining areas.

The reason why fishing boats are carrying tourists is well known by now. Fishermen in the area have been facing a livelihood crisis following a ban on fishing in the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary, the only one of its kind in the state. The sanctuary was created mainly with the objective of protecting the endangered Olive Ridley turtles which have their most famous rookery close to the Gahirmatha beach.

But the round the year ban on fishing in the sanctuary has resulted in hundreds of fisherfolk in villages like Kharnasi and Ramnagar being forced to either give up fishing or to migrate in search of work. There have also been cases of fishermen committing suicide out of sheer desperation. Even though a violation of the fishing restrictions are common and often result in violence the problem of livelihood persists.

With fishing practically ceasing to be a viable livelihood option a large number of fishermen have started using their boats to carry tourists to places like Hukitola and Batighar to shore up their shrinking income. But these boats are not designed to ferry tourists and are helmed mostly by inexperienced operators.

On its part, the administration has taken precautionary steps like making it mandatory for boat passengers to wear life jackets and for boat operators to obtain fitness certificates from the competent authority. But these directives are hardly ever followed and boat rides continue to be as dangerous as ever.

Kendrapara being a district crisscrossed by rivers and creeks boat journeys are common and they pose a threat to the life and limb of people. River ghats at Gupti and Khola are among the busiest in the district carrying tourists to the famous Bhitarkanika sanctuary. Similarly, boats from ghats at Jamboo, Bahakuda and Kharinashi carry people to tourist destinations like Hukitola and Lighthouse. A large number of these boats are operated by untrained youngsters in risky weather conditions.

Accidents and loss of life in dangerous boat rides have been a regular feature in the district. The memory of 13 members of a local cricket team drowning in Mahanadi near Bahakuda ghat more than a decade ago is still seared in the minds of people. It is time the administration woke up and strictly enforced rules for safe boat operation to prevent such mishaps. These laws should be observed not only in Kendrapara but in all parts of the state.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)