The boat, Suvarna Tribhuja, left for deep sea fishing off the coast of Goa on December 13 and the last contact made by it was on December 16.
Fishing activities at the Malpe Fishing Harbour in Udupi came to a standstill on Sunday after thousands of fishermen from the three coastal districts of Karnataka – Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Uttara Kannada – took to the streets to highlight the plight of seven fishermen who have been missing at sea for 22 days.
Beginning at the Malpe Fishing Harbour, the protesters marched to National Highway 66 and stopped traffic on the road for three hours. The protesting fishermen were demanding that authorities should expedite the search for the missing boat and fishermen. “This is a safety concern for thousands of fishermen in our area. We want to ask how is it that the boat has not been traced weeks after it went missing?” asks Yathish Baikampady, ex-President of the Moguveera Vyavastapaka Mandali, an organisation working for the welfare of fishermen in the coastal districts.
The fishing boat, Suvarna Tribhuja, went missing on December 16 off the coast of Goa. It had left the coast for deep sea fishing on December 13 at 11 pm. The last contact made by the boat with other boats was at 1 am on December 16 when the boat owner Chandrashekar informed his brother that their boat could not contact other boats fishing in the area. After this, neither the boat nor the fishermen on board could be contacted.
Seven fishermen were onboard when the boat went missing. Two of them – Chandrashekar (40) and Damodar (40) – are from Badanidiyur village in Malpe, while the other five – Lakshman (45), Sathish (35), Ravi (27), Harish (28), Ramesh (30) – are from Bhatkal. Chandrashekar is the owner of the boat and the others hail from low-income families and are, in most cases, the only earning members.
The fishermen were supposed to return from the expedition within 10 days but when Suvarna Tribhuja did not return, the boat owner’s brother, Nithyanand, knew something was amiss. He waited for a few days in the hope that the boat would eventually turn up but on December 22, he approached the Coastal Security Police (CSP) in Malpe and lodged a missing complaint. The CSP alerted the Udupi district police soon after. Nithyanand has since made several visits to the police station in the hope of finding more information about the missing boat and his brother on board, but he is yet to hear any news.
Malpe fishing harbour
A police official investigating the case confirmed that three canisters, which according to fishermen belong to Suvarna Tribhuja, have been found deep in the sea since the boat went missing. “Canisters were found, which the fishermen believe belongs to the boat in question, around 30-35 nautical miles from Malwana in Sindhudurg on 16 and 18 December. The Indian Navy and the Coast Guard have been informed about this and they are expanding their search for the boat,” the police official tells TNM.
Meanwhile, Udupi MLA Raghupathi Bhat of the BJP raised the possibility that pirates or terrorists could have hijacked the boat. In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 27, Raghupathi Bhat urged the central government to intensify the search for the missing boat. “The search has not put up any traces of diesel stain in the water or found any floating debris, which would have been found in case the ship had sunk. The fishermen community here strongly believe that this is a case where pirates or terrorists have hijacked the boat and held these fishermen as hostages,” (sic) reads the letter.
Karnataka Home Minister MB Patil and Udupi district minister-in-charge Jayamala also visited Malpe Fishing Harbour on January 5 and interacted with the family of Chandrashekar. Both leaders reiterated that tracing the missing fishermen remained the priority of the state government.
Udupi MLA Raghupathi Bhat speaking at the protest organised by fishermen on Sunday.
But for fishermen in Malpe, the repeated assurances of the officials visiting the district have done little to allay their fears. “It is dangerous for fishermen in the sea and it is time that the authorities answer the questions raised by us and ensure our security,” adds Yathish.
The protesting fishermen are hopeful that the missing boat can be traced and are also planning a second shut-down of fishing activities, this time not only in Malpe but also in Karwar and Mangaluru.