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WHOSE BLUNDER KILLED THEM ALL

13 June 2013 04:19 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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While blame being passed on, no measures to prevent repetition 

Who is responsible for the 53 fishermen who died and the 16 who went missing as a result of the recent thunder showers? The Meteorological Department (which was shamed continually by the media during the past few days in the aftermath of the gale), the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) and Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources keep on passing the responsibly to each other institution in the aftermath of disaster that claimed over 50 lives and destituted many. Daily Mirror investigated into the matter.

The Director General of the Meteorological Department, S.H. Kariyawasam speaking to Daily Mirror said that the Met Department was looking into methods of improving their systems to avoid such incidents from taking place in the future again. “We are looking at ways to upgrade our system concerning both technological issues and human recourses. We have requested the authorities to address the issue,” Kariyawasam said.



According to the Met Department reports, a weather forecast was issued at 1600 hours on June 7 which said that the gradual increase of rain in the Southwestern parts and windy condition over Sri Lanka and the neighbouring sea areas were expected. “Showers will occur at times in the Western, Sabaragamuwa, Central and Southern provinces. Showers may extend to Puttalam and Kurunegala districts too. Southwestern monsoonal winds will be strengthening at times over the island and neighbourhood,” the weather forecast reported. Further in this report explaining about the sea conditions the report stated “naval and fishing communities are requested to be vigilant as deep and shallow sea areas off the coast extending from Mannar to Pottuvil via Colombo and Galle will be rough with strong southwesterly wind upto 80kmp/h”.



Daily Mirror met with a fisherman whose boat had capsized in the ocean during the storm. He had saved his life by battling with the waves. Resident of Balapitiya, A.D. Thushara De Silva recalling his traumatic experience told the Daily Mirror, “around 4.30 a.m while I with two other fishermen was traveling on a boat, a strong wind came and capsized our boat. The three of us were thrown into the ocean and we swam in the darkness to save our lives. We reached the boat and tried to hang onto it as much as possible. But as a result of another gush of wind, we were thrown into the ocean again. From there I swam in the direction of land for about 20 minutes and after that I saw a paddle. I clung onto it and sailed till we reached the shore. I think I must have clung to the paddle and stayed like that for about two hours. When I finally reached the shore dawn was breaking, and when I opened my eyes again, I was in the Balapitiya hospital along with 10 other fishermen.”

According to media reports President Rajapaksa has already called for an investigation to be held regarding last Saturdays incidents which left 56 people dead, 16 missing and 29 injured. Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Amaraweera stated that he is willing to resign from his post as minister if the committee appointed by President Rajapaksa to look into the climate catastrophe found his ministry guilty of any shortcomings. However Assistant Director of the Disaster Management Centre, Pradeep Kodippili told Daily Mirror that to prevent such incidents from occurring again the DMC would instantly take the relevant measures at any time of the day; if they received the correct, technical information at the proper time.

So this leaves us with the question of finding out whose responsibility it is to inform fishermen to cease from going out to the ocean under bad weather conditions. Is it the responsibility of the met department or the DMC, or is it the responsibility of the Fisheries Ministry? Daily Mirror spoke with the Deputy Fisheries Minister, Sarath Kumara Gunarathna and questioned him about this. Minister Gunarathna refused to talk about the issue said that he trusts President Rajapaksa to take a decision on who is ultimately responsible for the catastrophe.



“Since a warning was not issued, we did not receive any information to notify the fishermen. However I do not want to be the judge in deciding whose responsibility it was. I trust in the President and will let him study the reports and take a decision,” Gunarathna said. Meanwhile an official of the Fisheries Monitoring Control and Surveillance Division which is under the Fisheries Ministry who spoke with Daily Mirror under terms of anonymity said, “If the message was received on time many lives would have been saved. It is the responsibility of both the Met Department and the DMC to inform the fishermen under bad weather conditions not to sail out to the sea. However if we received the message on time we would have informed the multi day travlers through radio and telephone who would have informed the nearby one day fishing boats,” the official said.

Regardless of what the authorities of the FIsheries Ministry, Met Department and the DMC says, it is ultimately the poor fishermen who sail to the sea on one day fishing boats (to meet their ends meet), that have to pay with their lives due to the irresponsibility of the authorities. The technological silence (of the authorities) that prevailed throughout the recent storms made many lives and families of fishermen miserable. A grieving brother who was forced to witness the corpse of his sibling lying on the shores of Beruwala said, “My bother Anthony Fernando has five children. I never thought that something like this would happen to him. We found his body washed away on the Beruwala shores. If he had received the news of the storm on time, perhaps he might still be alive today.” All of these stories speak of responsibilities that were not properly fathomed. The inability of the authorities to act on time has today left an eternal wound in the hearts of the family members and friends of the victims. So let’s hope that at least now and in the future, the relevant authorities would take the necessary measures to overcome their shortcomings which paved the road for this ocean of tears.

(Additional reporting by Sarath Siriwardana, Keerthi Wansha Thilakaratne and Kamal Sri Liyanage)
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