Lakshadweep residents who arrived in Kerala for treatment struggle to return, courtesy two docked ships.

For M.P. Attakoya from Androth Island in Lakshadweep, the operation on his leg was less painful compared to the long wait at the ticketing office in Beypore Port to secure a return ticket back home.

“Ignoring the pain in my legs, I queued up here for two days without sleep and still I could not get a ticket. Now, I am planning to travel by road to Mangalore port and catch a ship from there. Even the ticket from there is on waiting list. I finished my treatment two weeks ago and has been stranded here since then,” says Mr. Attakoya.

The 65-year-old is one of the thousands from various islands in Lakshadweep who travel to Kozhikode and other cities of the mainland for medical treatment annually. But this summer, their travel plans turned awry with the dry docking of two passenger ships from Kochi port, m.v. Kavaratti and m.v. Bharatseema, for maintenance work. These two have a capacity of 700 and 380 passengers respectively.

The volume of passengers during vacation time is huge. The docking of two major ships made the situation worse. “The docking is part of the mandatory annual maintenance work. The ship can run only after it is certified safe. This time, we had scheduled the docking early anticipating the vacation. But the dock allocation at the Cochin shipyard got delayed,” says K.K. Mustafa, Assistant Director of the Lakshadweep Port.

The docking of the ships has made passengers from Kochi also to travel to Beypore, from where three smaller vessels will set sail on Wednesday.

The demand for seats is many times the available capacity.

Three other vessels that were part of the fixed schedule from Beypore have now been re-allocated for the Lakshadweep government’s requirement. Such re-allocation is done during vacations to take schoolchildren on vacation trips to the mainland.

Since the tickets are sold out, many are buying the same for double price from those who have already bought it.

“A ticket to Androth Island costs Rs.165. I bought this for Rs.300 from a person. Now I have to remit Rs.86 at the office to change the name on the ticket,” says P. Rasheeda, who came for her daughter’s treatment.

According to Mr. Mustafa, around 90 per cent of the passengers from the island come for medical treatment. The lack of state-of-the-art medical facilities is cited as one of the reasons for the huge outflow of patients.

“We have only basic medical facilities in the islands. We depend on those for things like fever or cold. For serious health issues, we travel to the mainland, though the treatment here is expensive. But it creates a financial burden for us in cases like this when we are stranded here. We end up paying high room rents for weeks while waiting for a ticket,” says A.J. Hassan, a BSNL employee in Androth Island.

A private super speciality hospital was set up in Agathi Island recently. But for people from many other islands, the mainland is still a better option health wise. The long wait to return is something they wish they could avoid.

“I came with eight of my family members last month for our mother’s treatment. She passed away last week. We conducted the burial at a mosque here. For the past one week, we have been waiting here for the return journey, with one person less,” says N. Hussain.

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