Christmas is less than three weeks away, but coastal villages of Poonthura, Vizhinjam, Valiyathura and Adimalathura in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram district are sporting black flags instead of Christmas stars. About 92 fishermen from these villages are still missing six days after Cyclone Ockhi hit the sea off Kerala.
At Poonthura and Vizhinjam, from where 28 and 30 men are missing, respectively, control rooms have been set up in church compounds. The relatives of those missing continue to pray for their return. But with fishermen who ventured out in the past two days to look for their fellows returning only with bodies, it is slowly dawning on these villages that the church bells shall toll for several funerals before they do for Christmas.
Fisherman Simon P said, “We know the chances of the safe return of 90-odd men who went to sea in small boats are very thin. We are trying to comfort the women, telling them that those missing might have been saved by ships. Sometimes, we tell them past incidents when our forefathers miraculously escaped mishaps at sea.”
Antony Roman, 42, a fisherman from Vizhinjam who was rescued a day after the cyclone hit the sea off Kerala, said reports of fishermen who survived by reaching Maharashtra and Gujarat coasts do not bring him any relief.
“What we hear from coasts of other states is about men in huge trawling boats which venture into the sea with supply for weeks. They reached safe coasts on their own. But we went fishing in small country boats,” said Roman, who is eagerly waiting for the five fellow fishermen he went to sea with the day the cyclone hit.
Shuddering, he recalled, “After the waves hit, we managed to cling on to the wreckage of the boats. But, when huge waves repeatedly tossed us, many of us could not cling on. I saw others being washed away. I floated for a day before Navy rescued me.’’
“If some big boat or ship found them floating, they would have been saved. Otherwise we have no hope,” he added.
Even as Kerala government puts the number of missing at 92 and the dead at 31, the Latin Catholic diocese of Thiruvananthapuram, to which most of the fishermen belong, said that 201 fishermen from the coastal villages are missing.
Diocese spokespersons Fr Youjin Pereira said that of the 201 missing, 108 went to sea in traditional country boats. “Those who went in trawler boats have reached ports in other states.”
Pereira said the government could not even do what the church has done. “We were forced to launch a search after the government failed to effectively intervene,” he said.