Thursday, 27 January 2011

Colour Coding trawlers for security

The Maharashtra government has rolled out a plan to colour code fishing vessels and trawlers so that it is easily apparent which area of the State they belong to, media reports say. The initiative is just one of many that are being taken to beef up coastal security in the region; other measures include fast tracking the national identification UID programme for coastal areas and changes to the registration requirements for fishing vessels.

The Mumbai Mirror says that orders have been issued for different colour codes to be used on trawlers belonging to the five distinct coastal regions of Maharashtra (see graphic). Trawlers from Mumbai region will be marked with florescent orange paint. Thane has been allotted a fluorescent blue colour, Raigad fluorescent red, Ratnagiri fluorescent green and Sindhidurg fluorescent yellow. IG (Konkan Range) Parambir Singh reportedly told the newspaper, “Region specific colour coding will help us identify suspect trawlers from other regions. The police will be able to identify the trawler from a distance. This will also make it difficult for terror elements to go unnoticed if they hijack a boat and enter a different region.” Singh was obviously referring to the hijacking of the fishing boat ‘Kuber’ in Gujarat by the LeT terrorists as a prelude to the Mumbai attacks in 2008.

However, the Maharashtra government is not stopping there: it is also streamlining and tightening requirements for documentation of trawlers, which now have to be registered every three years to keep a better record of any changes to their ownership or status.

Critics have long argued that records of registered boats are not accurate, do not reflect ownership and the authorities do not have any means of knowing whether a boat is lost, stolen or destroyed. This is because the system hitherto demanded that the vessel be registered only once, and so any changes to ownership or status remained unrecorded, sometimes for years, even decades. This posed a massive security risk, as a survey last year revealed: the Maharashtra Maritime Board was found to have 40,000 fishing trawlers in its register, but the Fisheries Department figures showed only 15,000 working boats, throwing up urgent questions on where the other 25,000 boats had ‘disappeared’. It was found that the age-old system had no records of boats having changed hands or destroyed, for a start. There was also no means of checking if a registered fishing boat was actually involved in fishing. It was found, after much scrutiny, that the actual number of working trawlers was around 19,000. “The process is complete and now we have clear knowledge of the number of trawlers in the State’s waters,” Singh says.

The Government has made registration of trawlers every three years mandatory. It is also planning to make changes in the documentation- changes similar to those used by the RTO when registering vehicles. Besides recording changes in ownership or status, the authorities want that the Maharashtra Maritime Board should include the State to which the boat belongs in the registration process and not just the area that the boat belongs to. For example, a boat from Bandra should carry a registration number starting with MH and not just BDR.

Of course, other States will have to follow suit to make this proposed system completely effective. “The trawler (Kuber) hijacked by terrorists was from Gujarat. But the way MMB registration is, it’s difficult to make out which state a trawler belongs to.” an official says. “A system on the lines of the RTO will not only solve this problem but also help build a database for the entire coastal region.”


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