A total of 3,432 pilgrims, including 535 women and 134 children are set to sail on Saturday for the annual festival at St. Antony’s Church in Katchatheevu, the uninhabited island in the Palk Bay even as the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) and the Coastal Security Group (CSG) finalised the security arrangements.
Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), CSG, C. Sylendra Babu, reviewed the security arrangements after a meeting with Collector K.Nanthakumar, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police S.Bhaskaran and Superintendent of Police (SP) N. M. Mylvahanan here on Friday.
The pilgrims – 2,763 men, 535 women, 80 male children and 54 girl children — would set sail in 97 mechanised boats (including two standby boats) from Rameswaram fishing jetty on Saturday morning after they completed the immigration and customs formalities and cleared by the Q branch, Intelligence Bureau and other security agencies.
Talking to reporters, the ADGP said the Collector and the SP had arranged life jackets for the pilgrims and made other arrangements for the pilgrimage. The CSG personnel, headed by two SPs, Ms V.Vanitha and Mr Manoharan, would escort the pilgrims up to the International Maritime Border Line (IMBL). Similarly, they would escort them back when they returned after the festival on Sunday, he said.
Sources in ICG said its vessel Rajkamal has already been positioned at the IMBL and its Air Cushion Vehicle (ACV) Hovercraft 190 and C137 Interceptor Boat would escort the pilgrims to the IMBL, from where the pilgrims would be escorted to the island by the Sri Lankan Navy. The ICG would ensure that no person joined the pilgrims on the high seas, the sources said.
Rev.L.Sagayaraj, chief coordinator of the pilgrimage, said the pilgrims would be issued identity cards, signed by him and by the Rameswaram tahsildar and 35 pilgrims would be allowed to board a boat with five crew members, he said. Vallams (country boats) have been banned from carrying pilgrims this year for security reason, he said.
Unlike last year, when journalists were allowed to travel along with the pilgrims, the Lankan navy, this year, has instructed that mediapersons should get visa from the Sri Lankan Deputy High commission in Chennai. Names of only 11 journalists from the electronic media have so far been cleared, Rev Sagayaraj said.
The Fisheries department has banned fishing in the Palk Bay from Friday to Sunday evening. Fishermen, who set out for fishing in the south sea, would be allowed on Sunday night and others on Monday morning, sources said.