Feature Article

Mullaiththeevu fishing woes

[TamilNet, Saturday, 11 August 2007, 05:13 GMT]
Thanapalasingham Suman, 22 and his brother Manoharan, 27, were wounded in A'lampil seas in Mullaiththeevu on 28 July this year when SLN Dvora gunboats fired at their fishing boat. The brothers are currently recovering at the Mullaiththeevu District hospital. In an interview with TamilNet this week, Suman said many fishermen in his area have to risk their lives against frequent attacks by the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) to feed their family, and often to support ageing parents.

Thanapalasingham Suman, 22.
"We are originally from Aaliyavalai, Vadamaraadchi East. Due to Sri Lanka Army (SLA) offensives we were displaced, and are presently residing in Chemmalai, Mullaiththeevu. We are very poor, and during the past year, we couldn't fish on a regular basis due to the danger from the Navy.

"If I go fishing one day I can make enough money to feed us for a week. However, we are constantly aware of the danger and fear the SLN vessels entering our fishing area. The night of the incident we were waiting in our boat after casting the net, and saw the movement of naval ships. We immediately turned our boats towards the shore and tried to start the engine but the engine stalled.

"However we managed to start the engine at the second attempt but on hearing the sound of the engine, SLN crafts sped towards our boat and started attacking us. We accelerated but the SLN boats chased us and continued their attack.

"We had almost reached the shore when I was injured by fire from SLN gun boat which had moved very close to our boat. I started bleeding close to my stomach, but I was determined not to lose our boat, which was our only property. Our family had abandoned most of the fishing gear and equipments when we fled from Aaliyavalai, and I did not want to lose our property again.

"When the boat reached close to the shore, I jumped out of the boat, swam a short distance and and collapsed on the beach. When I regained conciousness I was on the hospital bed."

Velupillai Thanabalasingham, 56.
Velupillai Thanabalasingham, 56, the father, described tragedy his family has faced for the past 17 years.

"In 1991 we moved out of Aazhiyava'lai and we lived in Chempiyanpattu, Vadamaraadchi until 1996. When we moved from there to Chemmalai, Mullaiththeevu we were unable to bring our fishing equipment with us. I managed to flee from the area safely with my wife and children.

"In 2005, we lost all our belongings during the tsunami, and in addition my wife Chellachi, 52, suffered serious injuries to her hand during the disaster. She now has serious health problems and needs our daily help and support.

"At present it is hard to obtain financial help from my community because all of them are faced with severe economic hardship. Most families are unable to have their regular meals and the same situation prevails at our home too. In addition we need medication to our health problems, and these can only be obtained in private pharmacies at costs we cannot afford.

V.Shanmugarajah
V.Shanmugarajah, Medical Superintendent (MS) of Mullaitheevu District Hospital said he had to surgically remove seven bullets from Suman's abdomen and that Suman also has injuries to his chest. Part of the intestine also has to be removed due to injuries, the MS said.

Suman is presently under observation by a team of doctors in the intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Suman needs atleast one year to regain his physical strength and to be fit to go back fishing. "He also has been pschychologically affected and is in a constant state of fear," Dr Shanmugarajah said.

Kanthasami Parthipan, Additional Government Agent (AGA) for Mullaitheevu District
Kanthasami Parthipan, Additional Government Agent (AGA) for Mullaitheevu District, when asked if he had taken any steps to provide any compensation for the fishermen affected by SLN attacks, said: "We have started compiling the necessary details regarding fishermen directly affected by SLN attacks. We also have begun collecting information concerning fishermen unable to go fishing.

"We have compiled the data about 2000 families from the fishing community facing severe poverty. We have decided to provide cooked food for these families and once we receive permission from the authorities we will begin implementing this scheme."

"We have already forwarded the details of injured fishemen to the authorities concerned. The familes are yet to receive any financial help," Parthipan said.



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