The tsunami has traumatised so many fisherfolk that they don’t even go to fish anymore and have resorted to working on the steel ships.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)
Tamil Nadu Fisherfolk ‘Steel’ Their Boats From a Potential Tsunami
After the tsunami, the local government urged all to ditch their conventional wooden boats and opt for steel boats.
(This story was first published on 26 December 2017. It has been republished from The Quint’s archives on the anniversary of the deadly tsunami that hit Chennai in 2004.)
I was driving through the landmark Nagapattinam bridge and I kept looking around as the dark clouds descending on to the ocean and the bright blue boats made a spectacular picture. Just when the bridge ended, I made the driver stop the car at the harbour where boats, the size of mini-ships, stood docked.
Since the 2004 tsunami wrecked havoc in the lives of people, their livelihoods have not been the same. Every time a group sets out in a boat to the sea, all their loved ones sit in fear, praying for their safe return.
Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu was worst hit with a death toll of 6,400 persons and displacing tens of thousands.
Most of them lost their boats and were too scared to buy another as they realised that a wooden boat will succumb to the rough sea anyway.
That is when the local government stepped in and transformed the lives of some of the fisherfolk.
Steeling Through the Waves
Today, most of the wooden boats have been replaced by steel boats. These boats cost anywhere between Rs 25 lakh to Rs 1 crore. Fishermen usually divide the amount between 15 others so that it is affordable.
With the help of the government subsidy of Rs 5 lakh and banks giving loans for about Rs 15 lakh, buying or building a boat has become a reality for many.
The idea was replicated from Kerala, and the then collector J Radhakrishnan set up manufacturing units at Keechankuppam, Akkaraipettai and Nagore in Nagapattinam.
Steel Vs Wood
However, due to the high initial investment, many fisherfolk still take the risk and venture out to the sea in their wooden boats.
But experts say the steel boats are a better and safer bet.
The maintenance costs about Rs 20,000 a year against Rs 1-1.5 lakh needed for the conventional boats. The fuel consumption is much higher for wooden boats.
'I love taking my conventional boat but after the tsunami, my boat was broken, and all my friends who I usually go to the sea with, passed away. So I am too scared to use that boat anymore,' said Raju, who works on the welding of the boat and is also a joint owner of it.
The concept has opened a whole new job market.
Karthikeyan, who was a carpenter working on wooden boats before the tsunami, today does welding work and heads a team of labourers who work on the boat.
This is a very good initiative, but our lives are all dependant on fisherfolk. Even today, 13 years later, we have still not recovered. Yes, we are getting enough money for food and clothes, but there has been no growth. Steel boats or wooden boats – I don’t see any difference in our lives. We are still struggling.Karthikeyan
Though the memories can never fade away and will always linger on, these steel boats provide a sense of confidence and reassurance to the fishermen that even if a disaster strikes, their livelihoods will be safeguarded.
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