Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Valiathura Pier

History: The 51 year old, 703 foot pier and the godowns behind it are a far cry from the past when up to 50 cargo ships used to call here at a time. Opened in 1956 by the advisor to the Rajapramukh Dr. P.S. Rau, it was the only port along the South Kerala coast.

Supported by 127 concrete piles, the pier had four 3-tonne cranes and one 10-tonner to unload cargo from the ships. Since the pier was located in shallow waters, heavy ships had to anchor in the deep sea and transport their ware in smaller boats. With the development of the Kochi port with facilities for berthing of huge cargo ships, Valiathura lost its significance. It was declared a ‘dead port’ in the early eighties.

All five cranes were dismantled and sold as scrap as disuse and constant exposure to salty winds eroded their structure. The four godowns were rented out to industrial units on the Veli belt. The rails used by trolleys to transport cargo to the godowns have rusted away.

The pier which consumed 571 tonnes of cement and 250 tonnes of steel, cost about Rs.10 lakhs to build. Till today, the fishermen along the coast use the weakened structure to launch their catamarans during the rough monsoon months, when the rough sea makes the beaches inaccessible. They then jump into the sea and swim to the catamarans.

Waves here, very rarely fall below 1 m, and often exceed 4 m during the monsoon period of May to October.

There are many anglers, who occupy strategic points on the pier, holding on to their line, patiently waiting to hook a fish. Avoiding sophisticated angling gear, these people use their hands to hold the line instead of the angling rod.

The anglers here are mostly labourers and daily-wage workers.

The hooks range from 18 to 24 on a single line. There are also hooks that do not need any bait on them. But these should be regularly pulled and loosened in the water in order to attract prey. As the water current is towards the shore, the anglers need something to take the line down to the waters. For this, they use iron weights attached to the line, which provides the thrust while the line is thrown into the sea.

`Malavu', a fish that visits the coastline occasionally from inland waters, is another temptation for the anglers. `Para', `Kanava' and `Kozhiyala' are among the other visitors that swim into the trap.

A few years ago, one of the weakened piles on the right head of the 51-year-old pier developed a crack leading to the collapse of a platform measuring about 20 square feet. And in July 08, a portion of the sidewall gave in to the powerful waves lashing the structure and plunged into the sea.

In 2007, the Harbour Engineering Department announced a project for its reconstruction.


Here's a slideshow of pictures captured during my visit there in June 07. For a closer look, clickit