As the deep-sea trawler Metilar Metz makes ready to set sail from the Nagapattinam harbour, two men haul carts bearing blocks of ice from the nearby Matha Ice Plant. Indirect dependants on fishing, the ice plants around the harbour are part of the underlying economy, which supports the fishing industry and, at the same time, draws sustenance from it as well. There are about 20 ice plants around Nagapattinam that generate an annual turnover of Rs. 17.5 million.
Kavimani, the owner of Kavitha Ice Plant, says each plant employs about 10 workers who keep it running round the clock in 12-hour shifts. They earn about Rs. 250 a day. The ice plant industry is thus responsible for providing livelihood to about 200 people in the area.Maniazhagan, the owner of Matha Ice Plant, explains the process of making ice blocks. “First of all sea water is poured into the master tank. To this, salt got from Vedaranayam is added. Then, clean water sourced from Sikkal is poured into ice cans (moulds) which are lowered into the master tank. Ammonia gas is passed through a network of pipes called the cooling coil. It cools the water in the master tank. Since the water in the ice cans is purer than the seawater used in the master tank, it freezes to form ice blocks. The whole process takes 24 hours.”
On an average, Maniazhagan sells 300 ice blocks a day, each priced at Rs. 55. This amounts to monthly earnings of Rs. 5 lakhs. Accounting for the expenditure on various inputs, with Rs. 75,000 spent on wages alone, he makes a profit of about 2 lakhs a month.Though ice plant owners like Maniazhagan make a hefty profit, their fortunes swing with those of the fishing industry. “At times we sell all 500 blocks that we produce in a cycle. Then there are times when we don’t sell anything at all. It all depends on how many boats go out to sea –” Then with a long look at the Nagapattinam sea, he adds, “– and if they go out at all.”