75 men remanded in judicial custody

The mechanized fishing trawler used in the attempt to transport 120 Sri Lankan Tamils to Australia from Tamil Nadu coast had sufficient stock of fuel and ration to last at least a fortnight and the operator was skilled in transporting refugees, investigators said on Sunday.

Coastal security agencies rescued 120 refugees who were stranded in the boat off the Nagapattinam coast early on Saturday. While 75 men were remanded in judicial custody in Nagapattinam, women and children under 18 years of age were lodged in a marriage hall. A majority of the refugees were those who lived in camps in different parts of the State. They paid money from Rs. 75,000 to Rs. 1 lakh per person for the 14-day hazardous voyage to Australia. The asylum seekers were hoping to join their relatives or friends who had reached Australia through similar channels and settled there, investigators say.

Dinesh Kumar (29), who came from Colombo to join the group, told police that his relative who had reached Australia with the help of the same boat operator in July last year was well settled there. “After the captain abandoned the boat, the first SOS came from Dinesh Kumar who called his cousin in Tirunelveli using his mobile phone. The sea was rough and the panic-stricken refugees were trying to huddle to one end of the boat, leading to the overturning of the vessel,” said C. Sylendra Babu, Additional Director-General of Police (Coastal Security Group). “The boat had 3,000 litres of diesel and ration adequate enough to last 15 days. One of its engines and GPS had failed. The captain jumped into the sea and swam to another boat which came to his rescue,” Mr. Babu said. IG and Commander of Coast Guard (Region East) Satya Prakash Sharma said preliminary enquiries revealed that the boat was probably hired from someone in Karaikal. The urgency in providing timely assistance resulted in not only saving 120 previous lives but may also provide important check to bust a racket involved in facilitating illegal migration of innocent people to Australia.

“It looks like the ones that sail out of the Karaikal coast. This kind of a modus operandi will remain till the people aspire for greener pastures in other countries. I hope the police would track down the operator and take steps to prevent clandestine agents from luring innocent people into death traps,” he said.