According to the factsheet put out by the Raksha Mantri’s Twitter handle on Thursday, the Indian Coastal Guard (ICG) has recovered 9 fishermen dead bodies, while the Indian Navy recovered 3 bodies. The remaining 10 bodies were recovered by other agencies, including coastal police and fishermen.
The search and rescue operations that have involved the Coast Guard, the Navy and the Air Force saved the lives of 700 fishermen including five Sri Lankan nationals, stated the Defence Minister’s factsheet. Among this, 286 fishermen were from Tamil Nadu, 179 were from Kerala and 23 from Lakshadweep by the Coast Guard. While the Navy rescued 158 people, no break up was given of which states they belonged to. The IAF, meanwhile, managed to rescue 25 people from Kerala.
The Search & Rescue operation by @indiannavy, @IAF_MCC & @IndiaCoastGuard has rescued 700 fishermen (including 5 Sri Lankan nationals) as of 5 PM today. @nsitharaman #HADR #CycloneOckhi pic.twitter.com/65wfXluABp
— Raksha Mantri (@DefenceMinIndia) December 14, 2017
Official numbers don’t add up
The Defence Ministry’s figures, however, are vastly different from the states’ figures.
Kanyakumari collector SajjanSingh R Chavan told TNM that in total 12 people had died due to Cyclone Ockhi in which only two dead bodies have been recovered and the remaining 10 are suspected deaths. “The Revenue and Fisheries department are assessing the number of missing people. Until Thursday, 400 fishermen were still missing,” he said.
A Fisheries officer in Tamil Nadu said that given that a number of fishermen were involved in deep sea fishing, they were expecting boats to return before Christmas, and this would help ascertain the number of missing persons. He added that the department is also in touch with other states in case fishermen from Tamil Nadu have landed on their shores.
Kerala’s death toll owing to Cyclone Ockhi also varies from the Defence Ministry’s. According to the Kerala revenue department, 68 people died due to Cyclone Ockhi which includes 41 unidentified bodies. Around 105 people are still missing after the cyclone.
Fishermen associations have different estimate
However, fishermen’s associations in Kerala say that 70 people have died and 175 are still missing.
Fishing associations in Tamil Nadu have also a completely different estimate from both the state and union governments. According to the South Asian Fishermen’s Federation based in Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu, 240 fishermen died owing to Cyclone Ockhi. This figure was arrived at based on eye-witness accounts of other fishermen, who were at sea.
“Till Wednesday, 90 fishermen were reported dead. But on Thursday we got news from rescued fishermen that 11 mechanized boats with 150 fishermen had drowned. So, the number of deaths has now risen to 240. Since, their bodies have not been recovered, the government has added them into missing numbers,” says Father Churchill of South Asian Fishermen’s Federation.
But unlike the Defence Ministry’s factsheet, Father Churchill states, “The government has recovered 4 dead bodies, two from Kanyakumari, one each from Nagapattinam and Thoothukudi. Only one body from Thoothukudi was recovered by the Indian Coastal Guard, all the other three were recovered by the fishermen.”
The federation also stated that 370 fishermen from Kanyakumari continue to be missing following Cyclone Ockhi. “We were told that 12 ships, 3 helicopters and one aircraft were involved in search operations. We had been asking the government to have a rescue team from the fishermen’s community because they know how to measure the water currents. But they allowed us only after one week, and it was too late then. Government machineries go up to 7 nautical miles, Coast guard goes up to 60 nautical miles, the Indian Navy up to 200 nautical miles but fishermen go beyond 300 nautical miles. If fishermen had been allowed to be a part of search and rescue operations in the beginning, we could have saved many more lives,” said Father Churchill.
More than 4000 fishermen were protesting this week in Kanyakumari. On Wednesday, Chief Minister Edapaddi Palaniswami met them and promised to step up the search operations and also increased the compensation to the family of victims to Rs 20 lakh.
Father Churchill said, “We have given time to the government. Our fishermen who have not been affected, they will surely come back before Christmas. If they do not return before December 26, then the government should confirm that they are dead and publish death certificates.”