While the wreckage of the boat was found in May, there is still no sign of the fishermen’s bodies or their whereabouts, and they are feared dead.

A year after 7 Udupi fishermen went missing at sea families seek answers
news Missing Sunday, December 15, 2019 - 12:57

It has been one year since Nithyananda Kotian, a fisherman from Udupi in Karnataka, last spoke to his brother Chandrashekar.

“We spoke on the night of December 14 and the conversation was routine. There was no hint of what was to come next,” recalls Nithyananda speaking to TNM.

Chandrashekar and six crew-mates were on board Suvarna Tribhuja, the boat which left for deep sea fishing off the coast of Goa on December 13 last year, and went missing three days later.

The boat last made contact with other fishing boats from Udupi around 1 am on December 16, 2018 and even at that time there was no alarm raised.

More than four months after the boat went missing, its wreckage was found 33 km west-south-west (WSW) off the coast of Malvan in Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra. There is still no sign of the fishermen’s bodies or whereabouts and they are feared dead.

Read: 7 Karnataka fishermen still missing as Indian Navy finds wreckage of Udupi boat

The families of the missing fishermen – Chandrashekar (40), who owns the boat, along with six others – Damodar (40) from Malpe, Lakshman (45), Sathish (35), Ravi (27), Harish (28) and Ramesh (30) from Bhatkal – have endured a difficult time coming to terms with the loss of their loved ones.

In May, Chandrashekar Mogera, Ramesh’s brother, took his own life at his home in Bhatkal in Uttara Kannada district.

Read: Five months after 7 Udupi fishermen went missing at sea, brother of one takes own life

Even though a compensation of Rs 11 lakh was announced for the families of the missing fishermen by the Karnataka government, Nithyananda says that they are waiting for news about the boat. “It has been one year now and we are seeking the truth. We want to know what happened to the boat to give us some kind of closure,” says Nithyananda.

A request was raised to provide further compensation from the Centre, but there has been no order to that effect yet, partly due to the lack of clarity over the whereabouts of the fishermen. 

Nithyananda says it is common for fishing boats to remain in the sea for about a week. But when other boats that left with the Suvarna Tribhuja came back to the shore, Nithyananda began to worry that something had gone horribly wrong.

He filed a police complaint at the Coastal Security Police (CSP) in Malpe on December 22. Within days, he was part of the first search mission for the missing boat off the coast of Goa.

“We spent two weeks with the Navy team searching for any wreckage of the boat. There was no sign of the boat apart from plastic canisters found in the sea which some fishermen said belonged to Suvarna Tribhuja,” says Nithyananda.

Over the last 10 months, Nithyananda has run from pillar to post trying to find out what happened to the boat and the fishermen onboard.

Protest in Udupi over the missing boat Suvarna Tribhuja, January 2019

Congress leader and former Minister Pramod Madhwaraj alleged that the missing boat was damaged by INS Kochi, an Indian Navy ship. He said that the ship was damaged around the same time Suvarna Tribhuja went missing.

But despite the demands for a probe into the incident, families of the missing fishermen say that there has been no information given to them about the boat. 

The Fisheries Department in Udupi recently piloted a project to keep tabs of the boats that dock at Malpe and Gangolli ports by using technology including GPS, RFID, and cellular data to track boats.

The department plans to track the cellular data of fishermen onboard or the RFID tags on their vessels when they enter or exit a virtual boundary or “geofence”.

Yathish Baikampady, ex-President of the Moguveera Vyavastapaka Mandali, an organisation working for the welfare of fishermen in the coastal districts of Karnataka, said that the incident highlighted the lack of safety measures in place for deep-sea fishermen.

“Any time a boat goes missing, there is no organised method of tracking the boat or those onboard. In my experience, finding someone onboard after a boat has gone missing is very rare. We hope that there are measures taken to ensure that officials are able to track boats in the sea,” Yathish says. 

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.