Boats wait to be seaworthy again
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Boats wait to be seaworthy again

In Tamil Nadu, the fishing community braces up to get back into top gear.

india Updated: Dec 24, 2005 04:08 IST

Abhimanyu has not been out to sea since December 26 last year. A barge, it lies rusting on Nagapattinam beach since it was thrown from the sea during the devastating tsunami. But there is hope -- in a few months, it will be seaworthy again.

John Samuel, a boat mechanic, has come all the way from Chennai to repair Abhimanyu. On board he goes about his job with loving care.

Watching Abhimanyu being repaired is owner Perumal, who sits with his colleagues on deadwood, discussing how long the latest cyclone warning -- the sixth in the last two months -- will last.

As Perumal talks, on a sunny morning, his young son plays atop the new sea wall that has come up across the bay to provide a mini harbour to the boat-building beach.

The tsunami claimed the lives of Perumal's wife and two children in a nearby hamlet. When he returned from the sea with a good catch, an empty home greeted him, recalls Perumal's friend Shaktivel.

Today, Perumal goes out to fish in a group of five because there are not enough boats around. "I want do something, not sit here and think about what happened," Perumal explains.

On yet another small fishing beach in Nagapattinam, 100 new freshly painted boats are all ready to go out to the sea.

The tsunami killed nearly 9,000 people on Tamil Nadu's winding coast in southeastern India and left almost 200,000 people dependent on fishing and allied services without livelihood. Tamil Nadu was the worst hit in India.

The government puts the net and boat loss at Rs 4.8 billion.

Nagapattinam was the worst hit district. Its collector J Radhakrisnan says that about 90 per cent of the fishermen have gone back to the sea.

Giving the coastal community back their boats has been a key rehabilitation issue along the coast. Today, the coast is abuzz with boat building activity of every kind -- using iron, wood and fibreglass.

Immediately after the disaster, the state government allocated Rs 650 million for rehabilitating the fishing industry.

A total of Rs 400 million was spent on replacing gill nets for catamarans;

Rs 350 million on the repair and replacement of the boats, while another Rs 200 million was spent on rebuilding catamarans.

This allocation was meant only for small fishermen. The government provided Rs 4 billion for wooden catamarans.

NGOs chipped in a big way to provide standard and big mechanised boats while the government provided about Rs 500 million for repair of mechanised boats and outboard engines. About Rs 100 billion was spent on fishing jetty repair.

One year on, the boats draw attention when one travels down the east coast.

Everywhere, one can see boats along the roadside without engines. Every boat has the donor's name painted on it.

If World Vision has donated the boat at Sripudupettai on the Cuddalore coast, in Nagapattinam the new boat has come from Tas Manos Unidas, Spain.

Children of Sripudupettai give joyrides to visitors in the new boats, using paddles in the shallow backwaters where they are parked. "No engine, broom, broom," says a smiling boy, Tamilmani, as he invites you for a ride.

On the roadside, near Perangipettai, a green boat lies alone, capsized on the grass.

"We don't know who put it here, but it has been lying here beside the highway for months now," says teashop owner Dhanasegaran.

Many small boat workshops too have sprung up among the green rice and sugarcane fields.

The boats and the nets are all over the place but most are without engines. The fishing community here is yet to get back into top gear a year after tsunami.

First Published: Dec 23, 2005 14:36 IST