The Indian Coast Guard on Saturday rescued 120 Australia-bound Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who were stranded mid-sea, after their ferry developed a technical snag.
The group comprised 78 men, 20 women, including one pregnant woman, and 22 children, sources said. The travel agent behind the illegal voyage and the boat’s driver are still at large. The Lankan Tamils, who were staying at various refugee camps in the State boarded a mechanised boat at Velankanni, in Nagapattinam district, on Friday night. When the boat’s engine malfunctioned mid-sea, the travel agent and the driver reportedly abandoned the vessel, leaving refugees stranded.
Based on information from intelligence agencies, Coast Guard ship Rajshree was deployed to intercept the vessel. However, a source said the refugees alerted the police about their plight through one of their relatives. A Coast Guard Dornier aircraft was also launched for a sea-air coordinated search. The vessel was spotted drifting 10.5 nautical miles east of Nagapattinam and the refugees were rescued. A preliminary probe revealed that the refugees paid a fee of Rs 1.2 lakh to Rs 2 lakh per head to an agent for the illegal trip to Australia.