Indian Government urged to take immediate steps to search and find thousands of fishermen still missing from the cyclone Ockhi

The cyclone Ockhi which hit the Kanyakumari district has turned the whole district up side down and has caused great disaster in the life of people of all walks, including farmers and fisherfolk.

While it has caused great damage to the life, livelihood including boats and assets and to the houses of the fisher people in all the 48 fisher villages of Kanyakumari district, it has also caused damage to the fisher people of Tirunelveli district.

        It is usual that the cyclone and storms hitting Tamil Nadu would damage Rameswaram, Danushkodi, Nagapattinam, Karaikal, Cuddalore, Puducherry, Chennai and the port towns in the parts of the states of Andrapradesh and Orissa, creating a loss of life, properties, houses and fishing gears and crafts.

       Normally the threat to Kanyakumari district was sea erosion and not a disaster of this proportionate. Ockhi has done a damage far beyond their expectation.

      The local people are blaming the central metrological department and state governments for having not given due warning in time about the velocity and related information.

       Kanyakumari district has fishermen who have expertise on camp fishing for over 45 days. Thousands of them are capable of such fishing and by catching rare varieties and delicacies of the west, been helping the country with foreign exchange through the export of them.

       Since they travel for about one week before they reach the fishing ground and stay there for about 30 days, they have limited possibility of getting information on bad weather at short notice.

       While it is so, even for the short time fishers the information about the weather did not reach in right time. This has caused great loss of life and loss of crores of rupees fishing assets.

      The coast guards should keep looking for the missing fishermen with the support of their helicopters.

      It is firmly believed by the local fishermen that since many of these fishermen were fishing off Lakshadeep, they could have reached or swam through to the un inhabited islands and could die due to starvation.

       Hence we request the defence Ministry to keep searching for them in the region of these islands with their ships, helicopters and flights. The fishermen also believe that some of them who had been fishing off Lakshadeep could up alive or as dead bodies on the coast of Oman, Iran and such gulf countries.

      We request the Ministry of External Affairs to note these points and through the embassies in those countries and do the needful to keep an eye on the coasts of those countries.

      A compensation of Rs. 50, Lakhs should be provided for the fishermen who have lost their life due to the storm.

      The deep sea fishing vessels and their gears together cost around Rs. 1.4 Crore and the investment were not through banks, but through private loans and financing. Therefore for those vessels that have been totally damaged, the government should arrange a compensation of Rs. 1.4 crores.

       The central and state governments through the fisheries department should take efforts on war footing to retriever the bodies of the dead fishermen, to redeem their assets and to do a survey to estimate the loss.

        Mr. Ku. Bharathi, the Tamil Nadu coordinator of the National Fisherfolk Forum has rushed to Kanyakumari district to collect information in this regard on our behalf. A team under his leadership is making personal visit to the villages affected in the district. The report of this fact finding team will be submitted to the state and union governments.

       Preliminarily, we want to bring some important issues to the notice of the state and Union governments:

  • The fishermen of Kanyakumari district who like the Maldives fishermen are venturing into deep sea fishing, should be provided with satellite phones as been provided  in the Maldives and make a pilot project and an exemplary one honouring these pioneering fishermen.
  • The boats that qualify for deep sea fishing, shall be provided with license through proper registration without any further undue delay.
  • The delay in registration makes the insurance companies hesitate to provide an insurance coverage and so when such terrible loss happens due to natural calamities, they are not in a position to seek any due insurance coverage compensation.
  • The government of Tamil Nadu should implement the scheme of reimbursing 75% of the premium paid by the fishermen for their mechanised boats, just as done in Puducherry.
  • The Tamil Nadu government should speed up with such scheme to save the fishermen from the oncoming possibilities of natural disasters. The Union Government Fisheries Ministry should provide with 100 % financial support through special allocation.
  • As been promised by Selvi. Jayalalitha, the then Chief Minister during the last assembly election campaign, the cellphone towers of Kanyakumari district shall have capacity enhanced and VHF wireless communication instruments shall also have powers enhanced, so that all important messages would reach the fishermen on the deep sea.
  • As again promised by the late Chief Minister, helicopters shall be hired on such days of disaster to redeem fishermen who are lost in the sea.
  • The Kanyakumari fishermen who spend almost 45 days at a time on deep sea fishing cannot have access to the warning a couple of days before by the metrological department and therefore the Navy and coast guard should use satellite imageries and by locating the fishermen should reach them through helicopter before the storm sets, warn them and ensure that they return to the coast.

By M.Ilango, Ex.MLA, Chairperson, National Fisherfolk Forum.

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