Thiruvananthapuram: The bodies of four Kerala fishermen were recovered on Saturday, taking the toll to six so far in the aftermath of Cyclone Ockhi, while there is no word about 102 fishermen from the state who ventured to the deep sea.
The bodies were found as part of rescue operations launched by the Indian Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard after Cyclone Ockhi hit the southern districts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
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 and identification became difficult.
According to official figures, 37 fishermen from Kerala were rescued in the joint operations, while some others returned on their own. By Saturday evening, the total number of fishermen who had returned stood at 450, while there is no word about 102 from the state who continue to be missing.
Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan told the media that Rs 10 lakh each would be given to the families of the dead fishermen and Rs 20,000 each to those injured, while those who have lost their fishing gear and other equipment would be compensated.
Asked about the missing fishermen, Pinarayi was unable to give a figure, but said that information has been received that some Kerala fishermen have been located in Lakshadweep.
The chief minister, along with revenue minister E Chandrasekharan and tourism minister Kadakampally Surendran, visited those who were admitted to the medical college hospital on Saturday.
Thiruvananthapuram district collector S. Vasuki told the media that the 102 fishermen from Kerala cannot be termed "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 meters 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.
Fishermen block highway
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.
Congress flays govt
State Congress president M M Hassan told the media that the LDF 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 Pinarayi'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 Pinarayi 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.
Upholding the peace time maritime tradition of reaching out to any shore in distress, the Southern Naval Command (SNC) of the Navy had commandeered all its deep-sea vessels to reach out to the cyclone-hit. The ICG was handling the near-coast and shallow-water efforts.
Navy had stocked its ship with potable water, blankets, food, medicines and fuel are out at sea, tracking and rescuing fishing and other boats. At least two ships were on standby near Lakshadweep as Cyclone Ockhi continued its destruction spree along the south-west coast and Lakshadweep. Weathermen, on fresh inputs, had 'reassigned' Ockhi as a 'severe tropical cyclone.' However, by Saturday, the cyclone had moved off Lakshadweep after pounding it with high waves and strong winds.
Navy chief admiral Sunil Lanba said on Friday that fishermen should heed to warning by authorities before putting out to sea. Expressing displeasure at the 'process repeating' every year, in spite of prompt warnings, he said rescue was being carried out despite inclement weather.
On Friday, the SNC had deployed Indian Naval Ships Shardul, Nireekshak, Kabra, and Kalpeni and two aircraft for relief and rescue.