Kerala’s fishermen community on Sunday launched their own rescue operations with 55 boats venturing into the sea to search for those who have not returned, even six bodies were found, while a state Minister said around 85 fishermen were still missing in wake of Cyclone Ockhi. Meanwhile, two Kerala Ministers faced the fishermen’s ire when they went to inspect a cyclone-affected area. Three bodies were brought here, while three were found out off the coast of Kollam. While all the six were Kerala fishermen, their identity is yet to be ascertained.
With this, the total number of dead on account of the cyclone has gone up to 16 and more than 500 fishermen have been rescued so far. Meanwhile, the fishermen’s boats – 40 from Poonthura and 15 from Vizhinjam – left for the high seas with food, water and communication equipment. “We went up to 50 nautical miles and there we found more than a dozen damaged boats floating in the seas, but could not locate anyone. We also spotted a rescue helicopter also doing their duty,” said a fisherman who had gone into the high season Sunday morning.
State Tourism Minister K.Surendran and Fisheries Minister J. Mercykutty Amma, who were engaged in rescue and rehabilitation operations since November 30 and coordinating with the Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard, were booed by the local fisherfolks near here when they reached to find out the situation.
While Mercykutty preferred to return, Surendran remained on the spot. Archbishop of the Latin Diocese here M.Susaipakiam, who was accompanying him, pacified the fishermen and their family members who expressed their ire for the failure of the state government in not informing about the cyclone in advance and then for not undertaking the rescue operations “in a proper manner”.
Surendran said that the joint rescue operations were going on “and as of now 85 more of the fishermen have to be traced and it has been decided to include the local fishing populace” in the effort. However, anger was mounting in coastal villages as they were unhappy with the authorities failing to take precautions before the cyclone hit and also against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and other ministers for not coming to them when they were going through tough times.
On late Sunday, Vijayan, amidst massive security, visited Vizhinjam area but police found it tough to contain the emotional fisherfolks, as this was the first time that he came to the affected area. He met local Church authorities also.
“The authorities have failed miserably and the relief camps are also poorly managed with even the basic facilities not available. We have been demanding the opening of a control room in our area but nothing has happened,” said a Poonthura resident. The fishermen had blocked traffic on Sunday to protest against the state government’s failure in rising to the occasion of the tragedy.
Earlier in the day, union Tourism Minister K.J. Alphons held discussions with Vijayan on Cyclone Ockhi, which has caused widespread damage in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam districts, but categorically declared that this will not be termed a national disaster as Kerala has sought. “There is no provision to declare this as a national calamity. What the Centre will do is to provide funds. That has already been done and if need be, more funds would be allocated,” said Alphons, a former bureaucrat who hails from the state and was also a former Left supported independent legislator (2006-11).
Meanwhile, the Congress-led opposition and the BJP slammed the Vijayan government for the “irresponsible manner” in which the tragedy was handled and while Ramesh Chennithala, the Leader of Opposition, said that the rescue and relief operations could not take place smoothly as there is an ongoing cold war between the CPI-M and the CPI, state BJP president Kummanem Rajasekheran said the state government failed miserably.
On Sunday evening, Defence Minister Nirmala Seetharaman arrived here and left for Kanyakumari on a helicopter to visit the affected areas in south Tamil Nadu. She is expected to visit the affected areas here on Monday.