Six days after John Allen Chau (27), an American tourist, was allegedly killed by the protected Sentinelese tribe in the North Sentinel Island, a part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, police said their biggest challenge now is to retrieve his body. So far, the recce teams have kept their distance from the island, and are yet to spot the body.
“It is a challenge. We want to see the body first and then retrieve it. We have carried out a recce by air and sea, but we are yet to get near the island. One must understand the sensitivity of the situation. We don’t want to cause more trouble,” said Dependra Pathak, Director General of Police, Andaman and Nicobar Police.
According to police, on the evening of November 14, Chau rented a boat and hired some fishermen to take him near the North Sentinel Island. The next morning, he used a canoe to paddle to the island on his own, taking some gifts including fish and footballs. He spent the day there, said police sources. The fishermen waited at a safe distance, only going near the island, at pre-arranged intervals, to give him food.
On the evening of November 16, when Chau swam to the boat for fresh supplies, the fishermen saw that he was injured. But he refused to return with them, said police sources. He handed them a 13-page journal, and went back to the island. The next morning, according to police, the fishermen saw a body being buried at the shore which, “from the silhouette, clothing and circumstances”, appeared to be that of Chau. He is suspected to have died after being shot by arrows.
The body is believed to be lying half submerged in the sand, on the shore of the North Sentinel Island. The recce teams, who are being helped by the Coast Guard, have not ventured too near the island, fearing fresh backlash from the Sentinelese tribe. “We have reached out to experts, anthropologists, police, forest officials and Andaman Adim Janjati Vikas Samiti (AAJVS). We want to handle the situation in a sensitive manner. We don’t want to rush… The postmodern global human concern is to save the group, not to disturb them further,” said Pathak. “We are also trying to get in touch with the few people who were in contact with such tribes in the past. Besides carrying out an investigation and attempting to retrieving the body, we are looking at sensitising local agencies on the issue,” he said.
The five fishermen, along with two others, have been arrested. Police said they were being interrogated.
In an Instagram post, Chau’s family called for the release of those who assisted him in his quest to reach the island. “He ventured out on his own free will and his local contacts need not be persecuted for his own actions,’’ the family said. Saying that it was mourning him as a “beloved son, brother, uncle and best friend to us,’’ the family said it forgave his killers.
“We can understand their sentiments. But the law will take its course. Chau could have been saved if the fishermen had forced him to return on the evening of November 16, when he swam to their boat and gave them the journal,” said Pathak. Meanwhile, a team from the US Consulate General’s office in Chennai held a meeting with police officers here on Thursday.