Friday, February 11, 2011

Tuticorin renamed after VO Chidambaram - sailing to Colombo resumes

Toothukudi (Tuticorin) is traditionally known for pearl fishing and shipping.  It was a hot seat of Independence movement with great leaders such as Veerapandia Kattabomman, VO Chidambaram Pillai, Subrahmanya Bharathi, Vanchinathan and host of others.  Tuticorin Port is located strategically close to the East-West International sea routes on the South Eastern coast of India at latitude 8o 45'N and longitude 78o 13'E. Located in the Gulf of Mannar, with Sri Lanka on the South East and the large land mass of India on the West, Tuticorin port is well sheltered from the fury of storms and cyclonic winds.

Historically, it has been a sea port from the days of Pandyan kings.  It was also known for pearls, shells and conches gotten through  diving.   Pearl is a hard object produced within the soft tissue of a living shelled mollusk – a crystalline form of calcium carbonate.  The finest ones command high value as gemstones and objects of beauty for women.

Have heard that divers (with no equipments) would dive in to the sea from country boats, holding their breath for minutes, go the ocean floor and collect these.  They would descend over 100 feet on a single breath, exposed to dangers of creatures, waves and others and the result was not predictable.  Hard are the lives of some…  there are some references in tamil stories of slaves engaged in this and the one who retrieves finest one earning his freedom !

The present day Tuticorin is a busy port handling coal, fertliser, containers, copper concentrate, sugar, salt, granite amongst other things.  On July 11,1974, the newly constructed Tuticorin Port was declared as the 10th major port.   It also stakes claim as the largest container terminal after JNPT and Chennai. 

It has been a minor anchorage port since 1868 and has great connection with history.  In 1906,  the great VO Chidambaram Pillai (Kappolittiya Tamizhan – the tamil who ran Ships) launched the first swadeshi ship "S.S. Gaelia" – a feat which can be understood only when you deeply study the British imperialism and the force they adopted in crushing any trading activity against them. He  purchased two steamships S S Gaelia and S S Lawoe,with assistance from Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Aurobindo Ghose and ran regular service to Colombo.    VOC’s venture was called  Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company.  British gave trouble to him in all possible ways pushing it to bankruptcy by adopting price cuts and offering incentives.  The undaunted VOC was arrested and had to face hardships in the prison.

For ages trade between India and Sri lanka was flourishing and mechanized sailing boats used to move from Tuticorin as also from Dhanushkodi.   Dhanushkodi is a stone’s throw away  to Jaffna.  Lots of commodities of daily use like vegetables, potato, onion, turmeric, salt, tamarind used to be carried to Lanka by the mechanized sailing vessels in a day’s trip. 

Being a coastal place situtated closer to Sri Lanka, there  has been sea trade with neighbouring Lanka and Maldives.  Now there is a direct weekly container service to USA with transit time of 22 days.  There are regular weekly direct services to Europe, China and to many other places besides lots of services to Colombo

There was a separate section devoted to Sailing  vessels with specified trading warranty and curb on sailing during monsoon in the Hull Tariff and our earlier Marine Cargo Tariff also had specified coverage for cargo carried in sailing vessels, especially from Tuticorin to  Colombo.  In the recent past, when the island was strife torn.

On Feb12, 2011 – 350 tonnes of commodities would set sail from the Tuticorin port by a mechanized sailing boat MSV Raj and reach Colombo the following day.  It is  expected that passenger ferry service on this route would follow soon.   The vessel is to carry turmeric, salt, chilli and tamarind and such cargo vessels would be operated from the old port called Zone B.  The long running service was disrupted due to security reasons when many commodities perished before they were off loaded at the destination port.  

Sailing vessel MVN  Raj TPN 241 will leave for Sri Lanka from the Old Port here carrying goods such as onion, potato, corn, and turmeric and reach Colombo in 24 hours which should be a historic renewal of a very old sea route. 

There is another activity famous at Tuticorin – pigeon racing – Valarpirai Racing club representing the sport for over 2 decades.  The reared pigeons are let off from places as distant as Rajahmundry in AP and have to reach within the allotted time – the distance for the birds (as the crow flies they say) is closer to 1000 km

With regards
S Sampathkumar

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