THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: At times conciliatory, often pleading for calm, and at times stern even; that was Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday morning as she visited Vizhinjam and Poonthura where worried and angry families continued the wait for their loved ones missing at sea.
“Don’t be furious, please! Calm down. I do understand your distress,” Sitharaman told the packed gathering outside the small St Mary’s Church which sits on an elevation facing the Vizhinjam harbour.
The search for the missing will continue in all its intensity, she said. “We will not stop the search until every man is accounted for,” she said, adding the Navy, IAF and the Coast Guard were sparing no effort in tracing the men.
Her first visit after flying down from Kanyakumari by 7.15 am, was to Vizhinjam where the families waited in a makeshift pavilion outside the church. On account of the heckling meted out to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Sunday evening, the small road leading to the place of worship was under strong police deployment.The Union Minister, in her introductory remarks, said she was not fluent in Malayalam, but her audience quickly replied Tamil would suffice.
“In 100 years, this is the first storm of this magnitude to hit the region. It first hit Kanyakumari and Nagercoil. It then developed into a deep depression, but then it gained more speed,” she said.
At Poonthura around 9.40 am, where the family members of 28 missing men were keeping vigil outside the St Thomas Church, the crowd was in a decidedly unfriendly mood.They demanded that Ministers Kadakampally Surendran and J Mercykutty Amma who accompanied Sitharaman leave the venue.
The Defence Minister spent the first few minutes of her speech calming down the crowd. She said the rescue operations had begun on November 30 itself, with the Navy, Air Force and the Coast Guard working tirelessly to trace the missing men. “And they have been successful in rescuing large numbers of fishermen,” she said.
Challenged on this point by a young man in the audience, she sternly told him she was ready to provide details of each ship and helicopter that had been pressed into service since November 30. The Minister left for New Delhi by a special flight after meeting the media briefly at the Air Force technical area at Shangumugham.