Four returning refugees drown

[TamilNet, Sunday, 02 June 2002, 12:21 GMT]
Four Tamil refugees coming home from India drowned in the seas off Mannar on 23 May when the boat up to seventeen people were travelling in capsized in strong winds, press reports said. The dead included a five-month-old baby and her mother. Two other women also drowned.

One of the survivors, Anthony, said at an inquest into the death of his wife that seventeen Tamil refugees set off in a plastic boat piloted by Indian fishermen from Tamil Nadu on 22 May.

The boats had got into difficulties the next morning at around 7.30 am and soon capsized in high winds. Mr Anthony's 24-year old wife, Anthony Queen Jeyathevi, and their 5 month-old daughter, Rajitha, were thrown into the water along with two other women.

The sobbing witness said the rest of the party were powerless to help those struggling in the water. They clung to the upturned boat until it eventually hit a sandbank. The survivors spent the next 33 hours in the searing heat of the day, winds and the chilly night with no water, food or shelter.

They managed to hail some fishing boats at around 5 pm the next day. He said they were then taken to Mannar by the fishermen and handed over to the Sri Lanka Navy. The Jaffna Tamil daily Uthayan named the other two victims as Kiruba (22) from Trincomalee and Shoba (24) from Kankesanthurai.

Mr Anthony later identified one of the three bodies washed up on the beach at Pungudutivu as his wife's. She was buried in Mannar at his request. His baby's body has not yet been found. Another of the couple's two children was still in India with relatives.

Two more bodies washed up alongside that of Mrs Anthony were said to be of a woman aged around forty and the second a boy of around fifteen. The Jaffna District judge T Vicknarajah visited the scene and ordered police to launch try identify the victims. It has not been confirmed that these were indeed victims from the same boat.

One of the survivors said in a statement to Mannar Assistant Government Agent that the incident occurred in deep seas between Thanushkodi and Thalai Mannar. Mr Kumaraswamy Chandrakumar (33) of Mulliyavalai said he, his wife and child had set off from Madurai.

He said the boat owner managed to save some of those thrown into the water and they managed to cling to the boat for their lives. Mr Chandrakumar said he saw the body of a baby floating in the water. He also said the boat owner went back to India after righting the boat, leaving nine men, four children and two women on the sandbank.


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