THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman today said search and rescue operations in high seas would not be stopped or diluted till all fishermen, who are missing since Cyclone Ockhi hit Kerala shores, were brought back safe.
Naval ships, helicopters, Coast Guard vessels and Air Force planes are engaged in the rescue and relief operations to track down the 100 odd missing fishermen.
Talking to reporters after a meeting with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to review steps taken by the Centre and the state, Ms Sitharaman said, “Search and rescue operations will continue…There will not be any dilution of operations.”
“We want to make sure that each and every fishermen who had gone from Kerala comes back safe,” the Minister, who had earlier visited Vizhinjam and Poonthura fishing hamlets, from where most of the fishermen have been reported missing, said.
Through proper channel, Kerala can send its recommendations with regard to hike in compensation to families of fishermen who had lot their kin and equipment, she said adding she would brief Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Agriculture Minister, on the ground realities in Thiruvananthapuram.
“They (fishing community) are in deep distress.. I can see it,” she said.
Ms Sitharaman said fishermen who had gone much before the cyclone warning, probably 15 days ago, had been spotted in the sea and were given food and water.
“So I will not lose hope even for a minute.. If boats that had gone 15 days ago had come back with fishermen alive, we will make every attempt to bring everybody back,” she said.
The demand of the fishermen to include some of their men in the rescue team has been accepted and already 11 of them have joined the Navy boats and helicopters, she added.
“This is the time to keep my focus on rescue operations,” she said.
Earlier, addressing the fishermen, the defence minister assured them that there would be no laxity in the search operations..
However, the local fishermen alleged that there was lack of coordination in rescue operations.
It was an emotionally charged atmosphere at the two fishing villages as women wailing and weeping for the safe return of their husbands and brothers came together to hear the minister, while the men folk raised slogans.
“I speak with folded hands…Please listen to me peacefully…The warning was given on November 29…We started search operations from November 30…The Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force began their work. Many people were saved,” she said.
“Many people have come back to their families…We have not stopped searching for them even now,” she said, adding war ships are also engaged in search operations.
So much efforts, not even witnessed when the tsunami had hit the Indian coast, were being taken now, the minister, who arrived here from Kanyakumari this morning, said.
State Fisheries minister, Mercykutty and Devaswom minister, Kadakampally Surendran accompanied Ms Sitharaman.
Pastor of a local church at Vizhinjam said the search operations should continue intensively and the compensation should be disbursed by state and central governments in a time-bound manner.
In a tweet yesterday, she had said the Navy rescued 121 fishermen from Kerala and Air Force rescued 15.
While the Coast Guard saved 114 from Kerala, merchant vessels and trawlers saved 36 off the coast of Kerala and Lakshwadeep islands.