As part of its efforts to enhance maritime security and coastal surveillance network (CSN), three years ago the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) had launched installation of Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders on the fishing trawlers of Gujarat fishermen. Of the 25,000 trawlers registered with the state fisheries department, so far only 1,000 have this facility, a senior ICG officer said on Saturday.
The AIS transponders were introduced in 2011 along with the Distress Alarm Transmission System (DATS) for the Indian trawlers under the Vessel Identification System of CSN.
However, in last three years only 1,000 boats across the state have the AIS transponders. Over 300 trawlers in Porbandar which recently witnessed the explosion of a suspicious Pakistani boat explosion have this gadget. The Indian ICG that works as a nodal agency of the Gujarat Maritime Board and Fisheries Department for this project has received lukewarm response from the state fishermen.
When contacted, Manish Lodhari, president of the Marine Fisheries Co-operative Society said, “The fishermen were being harassed by the ICG during the fitting of the AIS transponders. Even before the AIS transponder installed boats remotely reach the International Maritime Boundary (IMB), the ICG officers used to seize the documents from the fishermen resulting in cancellation of their boats’ registration. This led to the stoppage of subsidy and several benefits to them. Enraged by such kind of harassment, they refused to fit AIS transponders on their boats.”
He added, “We agree that the AIS and DATS are meant for our security and benefits. We even prevailed over our members to co-operate with the ICG officers in installing them. With choppy waters in Porbandar, the fishermen actually need the DATS. However, the ICG is not providing DATS but forcing us to go for AIS which fishermen do not want”.
At present, only 500 boats across the state have DATS as they had been installed earlier and later the AIS transponders were installed. With the unilateral refusal of the fishermen across the state, the AIS transponders are lying idle at ICG stations.
Lodhari stated that the ICG cancelled the registration of over 200 boats that had AIS transponders claiming that the boats had strayed into Pakistani waters.
The ICG officials said that the AIS transponders are the backbone of the CSN. The transponders fitted in the trawlers give real time information to its operation control rooms on the movements of the Indian boats 24/7.
The recent incident of the Pakistani boat explosion off Porbandar port had forced the ICG officials to make installation of the AIS mandatory for all registered trawlers in state.
A senior officer from ICG said, “These transponders would be now compulsorily fit in their trawlers. When they move to Pakistani waters in search of Tuna fishes, they used to be abducted by the Pakistan Marine Agency. This will help avoid the transgression as well hardship to them”Following the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack in which the Indian trawler Kuber was used, the ICG had decided to set up static sensors under the Coastal Radar Network project of CSN to monitor the coastline.