'Deep' trouble for Lakshadweep ships

Passenger ship M V Minicoy anchored at Old Port in Mangalore.Mangalore has been and still a heaven and supply bastion for the islanders and Lakshadweep is not an exception. For a long time, the islanders have been trading profitably their goods mainly dry fish and copra and obtain many essentials and services to meet their basic needs from Mangalore.

Though the total charted islands number 24, there are nine submerged sand banks and coral reef in the Lakshadweep group. Eleven of the islands are permanently inhabited and the combined population in 2001 was put at 60,700 (now 64,429). The Island area roughly measures 32 sq. kms. The ethnic/racial feature of the inhabitants is predominantly Afro-Arabic with the islanders following Islam.

At a time when authorities concerned go out of the way to promote tourism, the island has become one of the leisure spots of the world.
The problem
Though the islanders prefer Mangalore than Kochi, the ship services from the Lakshadweep to Mangalore are under threat after the ship officials have reportedly expressed their concern over the safety of travel through estuary of Old Mangalore Port. The first passenger ship of the season carrying passengers has left the port on November 1 with 90 passengers but the authorities concerned are skeptical about their second voyage.

This ship service is connecting six islands in the Lakshadweep Islands. Lack of proper dredging to remove the sand and mud accumulated at estuary which connects the outer sea with the port has become a cause for concern. It appears that the delay in dredging would have a serious affect on the revenue of the port. If the path is not safe for travel, the Island administration will be forced to terminate the ship service to the main port or other ports.

According to the officials of ship, they are having difficulty to enter the old port due to the excess silt and sand accumulation at the estuary (the place where the Gurupur river meets the Arabian sea). If the water-level is not sufficient for ships to enter the Old Port (usually 11-13 ft required), the vessels would be damaged while entering the port. The only option then is to wait till the water-level goes up (high tides), which is nothing but waste of time and energy.

How it affects Islanders

Lakshadweep is a group of islands approximately 365 kms away from Mangalore. It is easier for people of many islands to travel to Mangalore than Cochin considering the time of travel and cost of goods. Many items like gold, clothes etc are relatively cheaper in Mangalore than Cochin.

At the same time, many islanders are depending on Mangalore for their health care, education and business needs. Last year, when the passenger service started for the first time, the cruisers to Lakshadweep were jam packed. This apart, tourists from mainland also use Mangalore to visit Lakshadweep, since the Mangalore- Lakshadweep sea route is rich with enchanting scenery - islands en route as well as the lagoons and corals under water.

Since a small region like Lakshadweep cannot support industries, the island government is actively promoting tourism as a means of their income. Besides affecting the tourism revenue in the island (if the services are stopped), the revenue of the Old Port too will be hit as 98 per cent of Old Port’s loading and unloading is done by ships from the island.

Official speaks

Speaking to City Herald, Port Conservator Madusudan said that the proposal of Rs 4.6 crore for dredging has been submitted to the Government. “We are waiting for the sanction from the Government. Once it is sanctioned, we will call the tender for dredging,” he said. “Old port is a natural port. So the phenomenon of accumulating sand and mud is common.

At the same time, he also said that the cruisers carrying passengers will not have much problem, when compared with cargo vessels. “Passenger ships can sail if 10 feet water level is available. When it comes to cargos, it requires 13-14 feet which is not very often available,” he pointed out.

Since we are in mainland, we do not understand the problems of islanders, who are cut off from the mainland. But still it is not a proud thing to say that we are responsible for such a situation in a place which was once a part of South Canara.

Historical relation with DK

The Amindivi group of islands (Amini, Kadmat, Kiltan, Chetlat and Bitra) came under the rule of Tipu Sultan in 1787. They passed to British control after the Third Anglo-Mysore War and were attached to South Canara. The rest of the islands came under the suzerainty of the Arakkal family of  in return for a payment of annual tribute. The British took over the administration of those islands for non-payment of arrears. These islands were attached to the Malabar district of the Madras Presidency during the British Raj.

Lakshadweep

Lakshadweep is an archipelago of twelve atolls, three reefs and five submerged banks, with a total of about thirty-nine islands and islets. The Amindivi group islands (consisting of Amini, Keltan, Chetlat, Kadamat, Bitra and Peremul Par) and the Lakshadweep group islands (comprising mainly Androth, Kalpeni, Kavaratti, Pitti and Suheli Par), both have a submarine connection between them, together with the Minicoy Island form the Coral Islands of India in the Arabian Sea. All these islands have been built up by corals and have fringing coral reefs very close to their shores. Lakshadweep is the smallest Union Territory of India. The capital is Kavaratti and the land area is 32 square kilometers. Only 10 islands have inhabitants. 

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