Albert Jelestine says that the sea has never been this unkind. When we went to meet him at his home in the coastal area of Poonthura in Thiruvananthapuram, scores of people had already gathered there. They were rejoicing that Albert and two others had returned, piloting a boat through the choppy waters, as cyclone Ockhi struck.
"We saw other fishermen crying for help in the sea. We saw their boats capsizing, some even were even calling to us hoping that we could rescue them as well. But if we had moved, our boat would have capsized too,” Albert tells TNM.
“Everything on the boat including food and vessels fell into the sea. One engine was also destroyed on Wednesday night and we sailed with just one engine. Fear had gripped us, we were not too hopeful of getting back home,” he says.
Thankfully, Albert, Mariadoss and Dominique had a miraculous escape. But as of Friday evening, 75 other fishermen from their village are still missing at sea.
Albert’s brother Andrews blamed the authorities for not issuing an alert about the cyclone on time. "Normally the Coast Guard issues a warning," he says, “But this time, there was none.”
It usually takes only four hours for the small boats to sail back to the shore. "But because of Ockhi, it took nearly sixty hours,” Albert says.
“We would halt when the wind blew fast, and would resume sailing when the sea was somewhat calm. When the tides were strong, we would hang on to the side of the boat," Albert says.
Dominic says it was god's mercy that helped them have this miraculous escape. "We are the only ones who have returned from among those who went missing without any assistance from the coast guard, navy or air force," Dominic says.
"When we reached the shore we couldn't anchor the boat as the sea was rough. We then moved towards Vizhinjam harbour to anchor the boat," he says.
25 other fishermen from this village has been rescued in joint operations by the navy, air force and coast guard. The air force has sent out helicopters that are throwing down survival kits to any fishermen they find during their recce, and informing the navy and coast guard of their location so they can be rescued.