Fishermen survive ordeal in deep sea | Sunday Observer

Fishermen survive ordeal in deep sea

Thirty-seven-year-old Dinesh Janaka Kumara had given up hope when they saw a ship sailing in their direction. With fellow fishermen, he did what any man hanging on the keel of a capsised boat would do- shouted out for help. He wished the crew of the ship will see them.

Kumara, a father of three from Matara, left for fishing with five others on June 26. The fisherman who has been into sea to find his bread and butter since he was only 16 years of age, was looking forward to a good catch as his situation had been aggravated due to restrictions in view of Covid-19.

They left the Kudawella fishing harbour. But little did they think the fate that awaited them in the deep blue sea.

“It could have been around 4.30am on July 1. There was a storm. Our boat started to rock and capsised a little later. We didn’t know what to do. I was scared. This is the first time something like this has happened to me,” Kumara told the Sunday Observer.

Among the crew were two fishermen who didn’t know how to swim.

Boat captain D H Chaminda Lal Priyadarshana has been fishing for the past 32 years. The 46-year-old seasoned fisherman is a father of two. He saved two of their life jackets which were given to the two who couldn’t swim. It was a matter of waiting. They waited for four days in the water.

“When our boat capsised, we lost everything to the sea. We saved some of the biscuit packets we had,” Kumara said.

They had a few water bottles too. But the water soon ran out. That is the worst thing you could experience in the middle of the sea.

“We survived on rain water. We thought we were going to die,” Kumara said.

When they saw the first ship far in the horizon, they thought it was a mirage. They waved and shouted out for help. But it didn’t stop. No one had seen them. A second ship passed by. Food was running out, and they had to rely on mother nature for water.

“We didn’t have a radar in our boat. We had an automatic identification system (AIS). When the boat capsised, there was little use of it,” Captain Priyadarshana said.

He was as scared as his crew members. If all went well, they would have returned home by next month with a good catch of fish.

The Japanese ship that rescued the stranded fishermen

“It didn’t. We tried our best to save the boat too. When the storm rocked the boat, we tried to keep it steady, but the waves were too strong. The next moment, we were all in the sea,” the captain said.

Four days later, came the third ship. “We shouted and waved. We thought that they would see us,” Kumara said.

However, the crew didn’t see the desperate fishermen. Luckily, they heard them.

“It was a Japanese ship with a crew from the Philippines. They took us in. They gave us food, clothes to wear and even gave us medicine. The crew looked after us like we were their own,” Priyadarshana said.

The ship docked at Visakhapatnam within a day the Sri Lankan fishermen were saved. They had to stay on board for another four days till their paper work was cleared.

On Thursday (6), the fishermen were aided by the Indian Government and the Deputy High Commission of Sri Lanka in Chennai and were taken to a hotel in Visakhapatnam.

“We do not even have clothes to wear. We have been wearing the same pair of trousers for the past four days,” Kumara said, adding, “All we want to do now is to come back home.”

But coming back home is not that easy with the new Covid-19 health regulations in place. Deputy High Commissioner of Sri Lanka for Southern India Vadivel Krishnamoorthy helps the survivors.

“Our wives and children don’t know what has happened to us. They are waiting for us to come back home safe,” Priyadarshana said.

The fishermen yesterday received temporary passports for their repatriation, Deputy High Commissioner Krishnamoorthy told the Sunday Observer.

“They are in Rajasthan Palace paid quarantine hospital that was arranged by us. The fishermen were taken to KGH Hospital for Covid-19 tests. We will receive their reports on Monday,” said General Manager of Esdi Maritime Pvt Ltd N. Venu Gopal Reddy who helped the Sunday Observer to get in touch with the fishermen.

He and his colleague P. Srinivas Reddy are looking after the fishermen and aiding with the repatriation process.