Tamil Nadu fishermen’s swirling memories of brush with ‘Phailin’

First, they wanted fuel to reach the shores, then some food to eat and finally, a helicopter to save their lives. But none came even as 18 fishermen of Kanyakumari district in Tamil Nadu waited anxiously for hours when their boats ran out of fuel and then crumbled in the fury of ‘Phailin’, the cyclone that struck Odisha coast on Saturday.

The fishermen remained stranded in the sea till their boats broke and sunk a few nautical miles off the Paradip Port in Odisha. They managed to cling to water cans and wooden planks to remain afloat. Repeated calls to the Jagatsinghpur district authorities, Coast Guard and marine police yielded no results.

Though the fishermen had adequate fuel, rough weather conditions slowed down the speed resulting in a drastic fall in the vessel’s mileage. Even as the cyclone was closing in, they claimed to have called the district officials over mobile phone and requested some diesel so that the coast located about 10 nautical miles away could be reached. Though the officials promised to send help, nothing came. “Since we had nothing to eat for several hours, we begged for some food. When cyclone intensified, we made a request for a helicopter to save our lives. I spoke to the officials concerned in the Coast Guard and other agencies…but nobody came. Our boats sunk and we were in the middle of the sea all night bearing the brunt of the cyclone,” Hygin, one of the fishermen, told The Hindu over phone on Monday.

He said all the fishermen had starved for more than two days and hardly had the energy to swim beyond a point. “Had the tides not pushed us towards the shore, we would have drowned. Even after getting washed ashore, we remained almost unconscious on the beach for four hours. After a passer-by gave his mobile phone, I informed the District Collector,” he said.

Mr. Hygin (40) says ‘Phailin’ was one of the worst cyclones he had seen in his 28-year fishing career. Besides him, other fishermen Jagan (34), Antony (22) and Johnny (23) questioned the officials who came to see them in the hospital in Jagatsinghpur as to why they got no help despite repeated SOS.

“The officials said they were concentrating on the safety of several lakhs of people along the coast in Odisha and had little resources to spare. The helicopter could not be operated in view of the inclement weather conditions…many of us have severe pain in the limbs and doctors suspect them to be fractures,” he said.

The fishermen are eager to meet their families in Kanyakumari district. But the State authorities have told them train services were either cancelled or operating in full. “The Collector has promised to arrange unreserved tickets. We have lost our money, mobile phones and clothes. Fish catch worth Rs. 20 lakh also sank with the boats,” Mr. Hygin said and thanked the State for expediting relief measures.


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