‘Drank rainwater to survive’: Chennai fishermen stuck at sea for 55 days recount horror

The eight fishermen, who had drifted away in the waters after setting sail on July 23, reached Chennai back on Thursday. One of them is still missing.
The fishermen were stuck in Myanmar
The fishermen were stuck in Myanmar
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The cries and prayers of nine fishermen in a boat from Chennai filled the salty winds of Bay of Bengal. It was 35 days since they started their voyage and the hope of survival looked bleak with hunger on one hand and the rains and wind on the other. They had run out of food. 

“It was on the fourth day of our voyage, the battery suddenly turned dry and we tried contacting nearby boats for help. We were able to hear everything they said through the transmitter but they could not hear us. We were then left with no option but to start travelling in the direction of the wind," Desapan, who was one of the nine fishermen on the voyage recalls.

Desapan and the 7 other fishermen got back to Chennai on October 8 and are back in the safe confines of their houses in Kasimedu and Pattinapakkam of the city. One of them, however, went missing. And what the men endured for almost 75 days, will probably haunt them for life.

The voyage began on July 23

The nine fishermen from Chennai had started their voyage for deep-sea fishing on July 23 for a voyage of around 13-15 days. When things went awry on day 4, they started travelling in the direction of the wind and calling out to ships they crossed for help, but in vain. 

There was no sign of any helicopters or Navy boats to seek help. The boat was also distant from the Chennai coast, coupled with heavy rains and wind. “Finally on the 17th day, help arrived from a Sri Lankan boat. The fishermen tried to help us by tying their boats with ours. However, the boat started to crack up and they left us in the sea,” he recounts.

Stranded in the icy waters, they were consuming very little food to save the rest for future and were hoping that someone would help them. “We did not know the place we were in or our destination but we saw many ships on the way. The ships were at a distance and we waved at them and tried to ask for their help. However, nothing came off it. We started losing hope completely,” says Desapan.

By the end of the 30th day, the situation was grim and the fishermen were praying for a miracle. “We used to pray loudly and cry day and night wishing for a miracle to save us. But even the little hope vanished at the end of the 30th day since by then, we had exhausted our food supply and the drinking water also got over.”

The journey from there became unimaginably tough and the fishermen thought they would never return alive. Desapan says, “We lost hope that we would survive, all of us including me thought that we are about to die. We caught fish in the waters and somehow cooked them to satiate our hunger. We already had no drinking water and were surviving on the rainwater. The hunger was killing us along with the lack of clarity on our destination. We used to think of our family members and cry because we could not do anything else. I also have a pregnant wife,” he says.

At the end of 55 days, the fishermen spotted a boat with foreigners. They had drifted into the waters of Myanmar during the course of their journey. “We did not reach the coast but we saw the fishermen who came for fishing in Myanmar. They informed their Navy and extended us help and we thought this was the end of our misery,” says Anand*, another fisherman who undertook the journey.

However, they had to continue for a few more days in their boats as the Myanmar government was reportedly skeptical to take them into their country. They cited the increasing coronavirus cases and told the Indian embassy to handle the situation.

“We stayed in the boat for a few more days but they arranged for food. However, they said we need to safeguard our boat because they would not arrange for a flight,” he says. The winds started blowing again and that’s when another tragedy struck.

Missing fisherman

One of the fishermen went missing as he tried to secure the boat. Desapan says the driver Raghu and Babu went to tie the boat that was on the verge of collapsing due to heavy winds. “Both of them decided to anchor the boat. They reached the place where our boats were kept and they threw the anchor into the water. However, the anchor got stuck on the fan of the boat and immediately Babu jumped into the water to disentangle the anchor and Raghu followed him,” says Desapan.

“As they went deep inside, Raghu was able to hear Babu for a while. However, Babu’s voice became feeble and then he disappeared. The fishermen from Myanmar were also not able to check on him due to the language problem,” he explains.

The search operation for the missing fisherman is still on. However, by then, the Indian government had arranged for flight tickets for the fishermen under the Vande Bharat scheme.

On Thursday, the fishermen reached Chennai after a wait of more than 20 days. Tamil Nadu Fisheries Minister Jayakumar welcomed the fishermen at the airport.

However, the fishermen are not happy. “We are not happy because we are still concerned about Babu. I visited his wife on Thursday and she is hopeful he will come back. We will feel happy only if we get him back,” Desapan signs off.

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