MEA says it has no information on 243 Indians who went missing on fishing boat off Kerala coast

It has been more than five months since a boat reportedly carrying 243 Indians has gone missing in international waters off Kerala coast but the mystery is far from being resolved. The Ministry of External Affairs, Thursday, responded to queries from the media and revealed that they have received no information on the whereabouts of these people despite issuing a blue corner notice to sensitise the nations in vicinity about the presence of such a boat in international waters.

The fate of all these people — around 243 if some media reports are to be believed — remains unknown but their kin languish in despair, hoping they can get some closure.

 MEA says it has no information on 243 Indians who went missing on fishing boat off Kerala coast

Family members have sought help from the government after a boat carrying 243 Indians went missing in international waters off Kerala coast. ANI

According to a Reuters report from the time, the boat set sail from the Munambam harbour in Kerala on 12 January. It was reportedly carrying 243 Indians — of which 184 were from Ambedkar Nagar Colony — who were hoping to get on a foreign soil as illegal immigrants in search of better employment opportunities.

The case came to light when the Kerala Police recovered more than 70 bags left behind by the migrants, as well as around 20 identification documents, indicating that the people were travelling on a boat so packed they were apparently forced to leave some of their luggage behind. At least 20 people, who paid to be on that vessel, did not go as they could not be accommodated.

"The bags are full of dry goods and clothes, suggesting they were preparing for a long journey," officer MJ Sojan had told Reuters.

News18 found in its investigation that as many as 85 children could have been on the boat as per the account of those whose kin took the journey. A birth certificate and CCTV visuals accessed by News18 also show that a 12-day-old baby was also on the boat along with the parents.

But what happened to the boat still remains unclear, with the last bit of information that filtered in being that it was headed to New Zealand.

About a dozen relatives of the passengers told Reuters on Friday that they went on their own, seeking to escape unemployment.

"They had to leave to find jobs, to eat. They have been promised work in New Zealand," Sugana, mother of one of the persons assumed to be on board the fishing boat told the news agency. They are believed to have paid nearly Rs 1,50,000 each for the journey.

This was further reaffirmed with the arrest of three people, Anil Kumar from Thiruvananthauram, and Prabhu Dhandapani and Ravi Raja from Delhi, connected to the boat carrying those people. A report from 26 January in The Indian Express revealed that Kumar purchased the fishing boat while the other two accused brought people from Delhi for the illegal migration. However, the police later said they can't confirm the destination of the boat as there were also claims that it could be headed to Christmas Island in Australia.

Police believes that most people who boarded the boat are relatives of Sri Lankan migrants in India. According to the police, the accused have told them that the fishing boat was stocked with 12,000 litres of fuel. The boat, Dayamatha, was sold by Jibin Antony of Munambam to Kumar and one Sreekanthan at Rs 2.2 crore. Police have found documents which show that Sreekanthan, now missing, has Lankan citizenship.

For the migrants to reach New Zealand, they will need to travel more than 1,000 kilometres through some of the roughest seas in the world. Cyclones and storms are common in the straits between Indonesia and Australia, the most likely route for the boat.

A police source told The Indian Express that the hopes of locating the boat was slim as the case came to light quite late. "Even if the boat moved at 10 nautical miles per hour, it would have covered 240 nautical miles by the time the search began. That means it would have passed the exclusive economic zone (up to 200 nautical miles)."

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Updated Date: Jun 20, 2019 17:01:41 IST