CHENNAI: Grief of losing a friend and memories of wretched experiences at sea still haunt the fishermen who returned home after almost 60 days of struggle in the Bay of Bengal. From eating raw fish and using boat fuel for cooking to hallucination and dehydration, the fishermen share their nightmares that refuse to leave them even after reaching home.
On July 23, the fishing boat with nine fishermen - Parthiban, Kannan, Lakshmanan, Sivakumar, Desapan, L Desapan, Raghu, Murugan and Babu - took to the sea from Kasimedu harbour. “We were scheduled to be at sea for 15 to 20 days. However, four days after we ventured out, there was a storm and I was not able to steer the boat clear of the waves. By morning we realised that the waves had washed away most of our resources like vegetables, fuel, drinking water and fish,” recollects Raghu, who operated the boat.
By July 29, all their resources were lost except some diesel. “After the storm, fewer fish landed in our nets. We were forced to use our little fuel to boil fish. That too, we had to boil it in salt water,” Kannan says.
Before long, they ran out of fuel too, and then had to eat raw fish. Some of them threw up. With no drinking water and an unforgiving sun over their heads, the men inched towards the coast of lost hopes.
On August 11, a Sri Lankan boat noticed their stranded boat.
“They wanted to help us, but they were not equipped to do so and our boat was beyond repair,” Raghu adds. The men were left to the mercy of waves. In the pitch darkness of the nights, they would tie soaked towels to their stomachs to ward off, to some extent, the pangs of hunger. “I wanted to kill myself. I was worried about my children back home, but survival was not easy. Almost all of us had suicidal thoughts,” Raghu thinks back.
On September 17, almost 55 days after they left the shore, another fishing boat off the coast of Myanmar noticed the stranded fishermen and came to their rescue. After providing some water and food, the Myanmar fishermen drove off to inform the Navy. “The Navy members came and told us they couldn’t allow us onshore because of the pandemic. They provided us stock for at least a week. After regaining some strength in two days, Babu said he’ll repair the boat’s hull and jumped into the sea. That was the last time we saw him,” Raghu breaks into silence.
“We survived the ordeal together at sea and he was my close friend. Babu and I developed a close bond very quickly and I feel guilty that I left him at sea. I cannot sleep well. Whenever I close my eyes I see him,” laments Raghu. After the Myanmar government informed the Indian government, the Indian Embassy took steps to bring them back to Chennai and issued emergency visas.
On Wednesday night, all eight boarded the Vande Bharat flight from Myanmar and landed in Delhi. On Thursday morning, they reached Chennai airport on a domestic flight. They have reached home safe, but a goodnight sleep still evades them. Not just their strength and sanity, they lost a friend too in the vast unforgiving ocean.