Busy Times At Songkhla Shipyard
This past February was a busy time at the Duangpramong Ship Repair Yard, at Songkhla near Hat Yai in Southern Thailand. While the popular media was filled with stories of violence between the local Muslim fundamentalists and government forces, the fishermen of the south, Buddhist and Muslim alike, got on with the business of making boats seaworthy for the long sea voyages. Trawlers that fish the Gulf of Thailand and waters south to Indonesia still work their gear over the side so damage to the guards caused by the heavy doors being raised must be repaired, soft planks need replacing, shaft need to be pulled and straightened and hulls need to be recaulked. All of this work was being undertaken for a mix of wooden fishing and tender boats.
The skill levels that result from the huge volume of work would be the envy of heritage boat yards in the western nations. At the same time, the Thai fleet continues to get new wooden boats, but increasingly, owners are building in steel for the long term economics of not replacing damaged and rotted wood. But wood or steel, the engines of choice among Thailands fishing fleet remains the inline six cylinder Cummins KTA19 and the V-12 cylinder Cummins KTA38.
The month of February saw new boats being built for Canadian fishermen in Newfoundland with these engines, repowers being undertaken for American fishermen in Oregon and similar decisions made by fishermen in far flung locals as Germany and Hong Kong. Both these engines have proven their reliability and cost effective maintenance in economially demanding and environmentally challenging fisheries the world over.
In Songkhla a majority of boats are Cummins powered. A typical Songkhla boat was the M. V. Cho Chochaisathaporn of about 25 metres. Just returned to the water after her periodic refit, she was ready to leave on the morning tide. Built at Mae Klong in Samut Songkhram province at the northwest corner of the Gulf of Thailand about ten years ago, she has her original Cummins KTA38. According to people at the Songkhla yard, Mae Klong is reputed to have the best wooden boat craftsmen and most cost effective material and wood supplies. Boat lumber can be 30 to 50% more expensive by the time it is delivered to the Songkhla in the south.
The Cho Chochaisathaporn, skippered by Capt. Udom Kalaket, carries up to 1,200 ice barrels. As a tender, she travels several days south to the fishing grounds where she delivers ice and empty barrels to the fishing fleet and takes their filled barrels in exchange. She then travels back to Songkhla with fresh fish for the domestic market. A typical ten day trip requires up to 8 days of travel for the round trip and 2 or 3 days of collecting fish on the grounds. The fishing boats average two to four metric tonnes of catch per day. The Cho Chochaisathaporns owner belongs to the Songkhla Fishing Boats Association, which is headed by Khun (Mr) Pilaporn Aekaluk.