Cast away in the Salomon Islands, 14 Indian fishermen survive on coconuts

The rescued Indian fishermen were brought to the Coast Guard station at Vizhinjam. Photo: Special Arrangement

The rescued Indian fishermen were brought to the Coast Guard station at Vizhinjam. Photo: Special Arrangement

When nine fishermen from Kerala and five from Tamil Nadu set out for fishing on November 27, 2022, they never thought that their lives would soon resemble that of Tom Hanks’ character in  Cast Away.

Like on any other day, they had started from Thangapattinam in TN’s Kanyakumari district after loading their boat, Chrisha Mol — owned by Varghese Raj from the neighbouring village of Eraviputhenthurai — packing rice and other staple ingredients that would last for 35 days. Acclimatised to deep sea fishing, these fishermen usually stayed at sea for 25 days at a stretch.

But on December 4, when they were barely a week into their trip,  Chrisha Mol developed a snag.

According to Chinnaiyan Vellaiyan, they were about five nautical miles from the shore when the gearbox broke down. For about three days, they were anchored at sea, before they were spotted by a Sri Lankan fishing boat. With their help, the damaged gear box was taken to the shore by one of the fishermen, for repairs.

In the meantime, due to inclement weather conditions at sea, the boat’s anchor got cut and Chrisha Mol started to drift. Using a dinghy, the fishermen managed to reach Ile Anglaise, an atoll which is part of the Salomon Islands, which lies in the Chagos archipelago in the Indian Ocean south of the Maldives.

Using what they had in the boat, the stranded fishermen managed to cook rice using the salt water. Though a deserted atoll, Ile Anglaise had numerous coconut trees. For 15 days, Mr. Vellaiyan said that they managed to slake their thirst by drinking coconut water and then by collecting rainwater as it rained frequently.

They had almost given up on being rescued until, on December 23, they were spotted by the OSV  Grampian Endurance, a vessel sailing under the United Kingdom’s flag. The fishermen were then handed over to the Indian Coast Guard when the British vessel passed off the Colachel coast on January 2.

Titus, one of the fishermen, is recuperating in an ayurvedic hospital due to extreme exposure to the sun, according to his wife. The rest of the crew, however, have returned to sea.

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