The bodies of four Kerala fishermen were recovered on Saturday, taking the toll to six so far as Cyclone Ockhi wreaked havoc and there is no word about 102 fishermen from the state who ventured to the deep sea.
The bodies were found by rescue teams of the Indian Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard after Cyclone Ockhi hit the southern districts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu on Friday evening. While the identity of one of the dead has been found, the other three bodies brought to the shores on Saturday were in a decomposed stage making it difficult to identify.
So far, 37 fishermen from Kerala were rescued in the joint operations, while many of them returned on their own. By Saturday evening, 450 fishermen had returned but there is no word about 102.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told the media that Rs 10 lakh (approximately US$15,000) each would be given to the families of the dead fishermen and Rs 20,000 (approx. $300) each to those injured, while those who have lost their fishing gear would be adequately compensated.
Vijayan said some Kerala fishermen have been located in Lakshadweep. Thiruvananthapuram district Collector S. Vasuki told the media that the 102 fishermen from Kerala cannot be termed as "missing". "These fishermen had gone to the sea. They are yet to reach home or they have not been able to contact their relatives here."
"The search operations now are aimed towards the Alappuzha area, as the boats would have run out of fuel. They would be drifting according to the wind direction. Hence the search operations are focusing on Alappuzha," said Vasuki.
She added that strict instructions have been given that "none should venture into the sea for fishing".
"We have directed teams of fishermen who have started their own rescue operations that only fishing boats more than 20 metres long are allowed and should not go beyond two nautical miles into the sea. They have been asked to inform the Coastal Police of the registration number of their boats going out," said Vasuki.
Angry fishermen at two places in the capital city and at one place in Alappuzha blocked the highway protesting the "poor" rescue operations being carried out, with the Kerala government coming under heavy fire for not informing the fishermen of the impending cyclone.
"When the Tamil Nadu government issued a warning to the fishermen, what happened to our government, where were they?" asked an angry group of anxious relatives waiting to hear about their near ones at Vizhinjam near here.
A special Mass was held at the Poonthura St Thomas Church for the suffering.
"There has been no word from my husband Gerald for the past three days. We have got no information from any one at all," said his grieving wife.
The families of the missing have now started to exhibit pictures of their loved ones to the media so as to send message to other parts of the state in case they are sighted.
On Saturday morning, the intensity of the rains and winds in the deep sea was reported to have come down.
However, the meteorological office has predicted more rains.
Among those rescued on Friday night, 52 are under medical observation at the Medical College hospital and another 39 at the General Hospital here. The state government has directed the medical authorities to see that all are kept under observation for a minimum 72 hours, even if they have no health issues.
"I was hanging on in the deep sea unable to move for two nights and three days, and only today help came from a passing boat and I was saved. It was a nightmare," said a rescued fisherman currently at a hospital in Kollam.
State Congress president M.M. Hassan told the media that the Vijayan government has made a mess of everything.
"The warning of the cyclone had come to the Chief Secretary here on November 29, which was handed over to Vijayan's office, but no action was taken. But State Tourism Minister K. Surendran says that the tragedy took place as fishermen ignored the warning. We wish to know who gave what warning. There was no warning given at all as Vijayan said they came to know of the cyclone only on November 30 afternoon. This is a massive lapse on the part of the Kerala government," said Hassan.
The Kerala government has already announced free ration to be supplied to the affected fishing villages, reported IANS.