Four days after Cyclone Ockhi wreaked havoc on coastal Tamil Nadu, there remains no clarity on the number of missing fishermen in the state. While fishermen associations from Kanyakumari and Ramanathapuram peg the number of missing fishermen at over 1000, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has estimated the number at 97 in a tweet.
According to reports however, parish priests of eight coastal hamlets have submitted a memorandum to Nirmala Sitharaman at Thoothoor stating that 234 fishing boats and more than 2,000 of their fishermen are yet to be traced. Fishermen from this region are known to make expeditions that last as much as 45 days, as they go as far as the shores of Gujarat. So far, 71 fishermen have been rescued, according to the Defence Minister.
Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswamy, meanwhile, said in Coimbatore that he had apprised both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh of the situation and stated that they promised necessary aid to rescue the fishermen.
"All steps are being taken expeditiously and the Amma's (Jayalalithaa's) government will rescue all the (stranded) fishermen safely," he had said during the MGR centenary celebrations at Coimbatore.
The CM further added that five aircrafts, four helicopters and 15 Coast Guard ships were deployed to locate and rescue the missing fishermen.
Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam had visited the affected areas in Kanyakumari and promised to expedite relief. He reportedly said that the casualties were low since fishermen were warned not to put out to sea three days before the cyclone struck the district.
As per the Indian Evidence Act, a missing person can be declared dead only if he does not return for a period of seven years. This would mean that for the families of those missing, the trauma is unlikely to end anytime soon. In addition to this, communicating with vessels that have ventured deep into the sea is a challenge. They usually carry only a wireless set and it can be used to for a range of 600 nautical miles. Worry continues to plague fishing villages as they wait tensed, for the fisherfolk who left for sea before the cyclone warning was issued.