THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: With Cyclone Ockhi’s tryst with Kerala completing a week and several hundred fishermen still missing or even feared dead, the search for them is being extended into the international waters. On Friday, the IAF will conduct search operations around Maldives. The IAF’s Southern Air Command (SAC) will despatch a C-130 J Hercules transport aircraft on this mission, a defence spokesperson said. The state government had requested the Centre on Thursday to obtain permission for the IAF to extend the ongoing search and rescue operations beyond the 200 nautical mile-limit. Chief Secretary K M Abraham told Express the state has written to the Union Defence Secretary in this regard. “Then, the IAF can continue the search further ahead,’’ Abraham said.
Fishermen communities along the southern Kerala and Kanyakumari coastline have been vociferously demanding the respective state governments and the defence agencies to extend the search beyond the 200 nautical mile-limit (370.4 km) where India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) ends. They also want the Centre to seek the assistance of other Indian Ocean rim countries to supplement New Delhi’s search efforts.
While the Kerala Government has officially put the number of missing fishermen at 96, the Latin Archdiocese of Thiruvananthapuram claims 201 men are still stranded in the high seas. Of them 108 had ventured out in small boats, mostly from Thiruvananthapuram, and serious concerns are being raised regarding their fate.
Fishermen from the Kanyakumari district in Tamil Nadu, who were at the IAF’s Air Station here at Shangumugham on Thursday, said 1,200 men from seven localities in Kanyakumari were still missing. According to them, the men had left in 72 boats from the fishing villages of Thuthoor, Poothura, Chinnathura, Puthenthura, Vallavilai, Marthandamthurai and Neerodi.