R.K. Radhakrishnan

Its last known position was 50 miles east of Tuticorin, in international waters

CHENNAI: The Indian Coast Guard on Wednesday afternoon called off a search mission it had launched off Tuticorin to locate a Sri Lankan trawler that was on March 4 reported missing. "We have searched the entire region. We took up coordinated sea-air search from Monday. We have not found any trace of the trawler and hence we have called off the search," said Inspector-General Rajender Singh, Commander, Coast Guard Region (East).

The Coast Guard headquarters received information on the trawler, `Hasarangu Dua,' on March 4. A communication from the Indian Defence Attache (DA) in Colombo at 8 p.m. said a 34-foot Sri Lankan trawler was missing. Its last known position was 50 miles east of Tuticorin, in international waters.

Based on the bearings provided by the DA, the Coast Guard launched a search with the help of CGS Varuna, an offshore patrol vessel on tour of duty nearby. The vessel reached the area around 1 a.m. on March 5 but found no such boat . That morning, a coordinated search was taken up with the help of a helicopter. A Dornier aircraft surveyed the area.

The DA wrote again on March 5 that "the Sri Lankan Naval Headquarters indicated that the vessel may have been taken over by the LTTE. However, these reports are being verified. The vessel was reportedly heading towards Tuticorin at 4 knots."

Coast Guard officials said that if the trawler was indeed moving at 4 knots, one of the four Coast Guard vessels in the area would have spotted it.

A barrier patrol was in place along the International Maritime Boundary and a fast moving Interceptor Boat was looking in shallow waters for the trawler.

No information

Asked about the incident, a Sri Lankan Navy spokesperson said over the telephone from Colombo that the trawler set sail from Kalpitiya on March 3. On its disappearance and the possibility of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam having taken control of it, he said: "We do not know who has done this. We only have information from third parties."

Fishermen in a boat in the vicinity reported that the trawler was hijacked, he said. Radio contact with the trawler could not be established. "Even the owner of the boat has no idea."

The Ramanathapuram police conducted an intensive search of all 21 islands of the Gulf of Mannar .

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