'The dock market is less busy today'
The capsizing MSC Chitra is located just a few kilometres from Sassoon Dock, one of Mumbai's largest seafood docks. And the oil spill scare is slowly affecting the price of fish, says Vaihayasi P Daniel
During the monsoon season, business at Sassoon Dock, one of Mumbai's largest seafood docks, is always a little low key.
"But," says Vinodbhai Tandel, who hails from Ratnagiri and owns a fishing trawler that plies the waters between Mumbai and Goa, "I would say it is a little less busy today. After all those reports on television telling people not to buy fish, the market seems quieter today."
The cynosure of those reports is hazily visible in the background. MSC Chitra, a 234-metre cargo ship leaking oil from two of its eight fuel tanks, is atilt in the Arabian Sea about two or three km away from Sassoon Dock after it collided with another cargo ship last Saturday. Its multi-coloured containers -- there were 1,219 at the start -- tip at a haphazard angle. Chitra, which flies a Panamanian flag, is giving off oil, as well as dropping containers -- some 250 of them have fallen into the ocean since Saturday.
Image: Fishing trawler owner Vinodbhai Tandel (left) with his assistant Vishwanath Shankar Pawar at Sassoon Dock, Mumbai
'Our trawlers fish in waters far away from this spill'
It is an hour and half after dawn and on one side of Sassoon Dock freshly unloaded fish is being hawked loudly in the market. On the other side of the dock, trawler and boat crews are vigorously attacking their daily chores, folding up long plastic nets, reeling in lines, cleaning out the aft and fore of their vessels and getting supplies of diesel. In the small centre unloading area, a mix of vessels are docked, some 20-foot trawlers and others are smaller fishing boats.
The owners of the trawlers are quick to tell you that their fish is hardly going to be affected by the oil spilling from MSC Chitra in Mumbai harbour. The trawlers that empty their loads at Sassoon Dock are deep-sea fishing vessels. Says Shripal Rawat, the owner of a trawler, "Our trawlers venture 100 km at a go and they fish in waters far away from this spill. They leave here around 8 pm from here and fish in waters as far as Ratnagiri and Goa."
Rawat also explains that the trawler fish being unloaded in the market bustling on Sassoon Dock on Tuesday was caught before the spill. Trawlers fishing post the spill have not yet come home from the deep seas.
Image: A capsizing MSC Chitra in Mumbai Harbour, two or three kilometres from Mumbai's Sassoon Dock. According to Internet marine logs this 1980 built vessel's last port of call was Jebel Ali in the Persian Gulf on July 31
Catch from smaller fishing vessels may be affected
Trawler owners, like Tandel, inform you that it is the catch from smaller fishing boats that could be affected because they travel only 20 km out into the sea.
Says an angry Vijay Ghatge, who does a variety of odd jobs but also heads out some mornings to fish on a smaller vessel, "These TV channel-wallahs are not reporting it correctly. Why don't they inspect the fish as we bring it in? All fish will not be affected by this spill. Yes, near the Gateway of India you can already see traces of oil. And Uran is badly affected. But not everywhere!"
Ghatge also asks why local authorities cannot handle a spill quickly and effectively instead of allowing such a situation to fester. "This is not how they handle things elsewhere!"
Image: An assortment of fishing vessels parked at Sassoon Dock at 8 am
'We were getting Rs 200-300 a paati. Now we get Rs 100'
Srikanth Kohli sails a tiny motor-powered boat named Jay Lakshmi in the waters around Mumbai. He and his companion are getting set to hit the ocean at about 9 am. He fishes, by day, using a rod and ventures 50 km or less per trip.
"Our fish is not affected. The fish are below and the oil is on top. I have taken several television crews in my boat and showed them." But he concedes that the price of fish has been affected ever since reports on the spill broke ut. "I used to get Rs 300 or Rs 400 per paati (basket) of fish. Now it fetches Rs 200."
Rawat agrees, "What we were getting say Rs 100 for a few days ago, today we are getting Rs 20."
Tandel adds, "We were getting Rs 200 or Rs 300 a paati. Now we are getting about Rs 100."
Image: Fisherman Srikanth Kohli (right) and his companion are bound for a day of fishing in the waters around Mumbai in their craft MS Jay Lakshmi
'Once the exporters know, they will not buy our fish'
Prakash Patil owns a trawler and his companion Shivaji Sawant is a shore-based seafood supplier. They say, "The situation has not affected us yet. It will take about eight or ten days. Once the exporters get to know they will not want to buy our fish. The TV channels have already broken the news so it is just a matter of time. Our catch is not affected by this spill."
Adds Patil: "My trawler journeys at least two days from here to get fish like prawns and larger fish. But that does not matter with the exporters."
And how will this affect the average fisherman? "They will have to wait it out a few days till this passes. It is already a slow time because Shravan (the Hindu month of fasting) is on and people anyway buy less fish in the monsoon. The small-time fisherman, who fish in shallow waters (for fish like Bombay duck), is going to find it tough. And seafood like crabs and lobsters will be affected because they live closer to land."
Are they aware of any checks on their seafood by local authorities before a public advisory was issued? "No."
Image: Seafood supplier Shivaji Sawant (left) and trawler owner Prakash Patil
Africa's Choice at Sassoon Dock
Patil and Sawant mention that waters around Uran have been affected much worse. And effects of the spill can be seen closer to Gateway of India as well.
What is clearly visible at Sassoon Dock are biscuits! Hundreds of packets of biscuits, wrapped in orange plastic, dot the loading area. Most of the packets, branded Africa's Choice (but made in India) are open and spill out globs of biscuit slush.
Apparently, one of the containers aboard MSC Chitra had biscuits and when that fell into the water, perhaps a day or two ago, Mumbai harbour was awash with Africa's Choice. A mass of it floated into Sassoon Dock. Says Ghatge, "When all those packets of biscuits floated into Sassoon Dock, people grabbed them and ate them. They did not get ill! So why should people eating fish get ill?"
Image: A packet of Africa's Choice biscuits at Sassoon Dock