Will Tamil Nadu's deep-sea fishermen return before Christmas?

The sea will not spare a man for so long Fading hope of Ockhi-hit familiesFile Image: Mock funeral by Kerala fishermen protesting against government apathy (PTI)
news Cyclone Ockhi Saturday, December 16, 2017 - 09:17


With Christmas fast approaching, spirits are increasingly low in the Cyclone Ockhi-hit fishing communities of Kanyakumari. While many still await the return of their family members who had gone on a deep-sea fishing trip, reality is setting in and hope is fast dwindling among the families left in the shore.

Deep-sea fishing is a form of angling which is done in the deeper parts of the ocean. It’s mostly done 200-300 nautical miles away from the land. Stocked with food and fuel to last them for a month, a deep-sea fishing trip typically lasts anywhere between 18-25 days.

On December 1, the day of Ockhi, almost 3000 fishermen were out in the sea, many of whom were practicing deep-sea fishing. They were scheduled to return home before Christmas. But in the wake of Cyclone Ockhi, hope of their return is fast disappearing.

Sagayam, a fisherman from the fishing community of Chinnamuttom in Kanyakumari says, “Their return after so many days is highly unlikely. After a disaster of such a magnitude, no fisherman would continue to stay in the sea. They would have either returned to the shore or they are stranded in some remote island with no form of communication.”

Inefficiency of the Coast Guard

The voices of dissatisfaction towards the Coast Guard are increasing day by day. “The Coast Guard was not informed well in advance to handle the situation. All our deep sea fishermen go 200-300 nautical miles away from the shore. But the Coast Guard swept only a distance of 60-100 nautical miles. Rescue mission should have been held much farther into the sea,” says Sagayam.

“The Navy, and Coast Guard were very reluctant to involve us in the search and rescue operations. But we are the ones familiar with the sea. We know how far we venture out into the sea. They should have used our expertise,” he explained, blaming the huge number of losses on the lackadaisical attitude of the Coast Guard.

A fisherman generally has a high physical risk tolerance when out in the sea. They can sustain themselves for up to two days without food and water. But the Coast Guard was late in their rescue operations, they claim. “Only in the third and fourth day after the cyclone, they set out on their rescue mission. Had they set out on sail earlier, we could have saved a lot of them,” alleged Christopher, who has been fishing for the past 35 years.

Better forms of communication could save lives

Fishermen use very primitive forms of communication, restricting their ability to pass information. Owing to financial constraints and governmental negligence, fishermen have been struggling with substandard forms of communication when out in the sea.

 “Our wireless communication system works only up to a distance of 25-35 nautical miles in the sea. We cannot afford to buy other sophisticated forms of communication. When we are out in the sea, we have no way of calling out for help. Why can’t the government enable us with satellite communication? It could save our lives when we are in the sea,” says a distraught fisherman who has lost his nephew to Ockhi.

Growing animosity towards a failing government

There is a deep sense of anger and resentment towards the government for their inaction and negligence. “Every time a calamity hits us, we will be silenced with honeyed words and empty promises. There was tsunami in 2004, Cyclone Thane in 2011 and Cyclone Vardha in 2016. But our fates haven’t changed,” said Sagayam.

Lindas, a fisherman from the fishing village of Chinnadurai said the community was so disillusioned with the government that they set out on rescue mission themselves. “We fishermen are an isolated community. Nobody will save us. Not the government or the people. We only have each other to save us. In twelve boats, teams of fishermen have set out on a rescue mission, but they are yet to find anyone. So many days have passed. The sea will not spare a man for so long. It’s time we accept their loss,” says a resigned Lindas.

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