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Chennai: More than 10 days after cyclone Ockhi hit the southern coast of India, confusion prevails over the fate of the stranded Tamil Nadu fishermen. Fisherfolk across the Kanyakumari district in the state have continued their protests over the last one week.

A statement from the chief minister’s office on 1 December had said 76 fishermen had been rescued and efforts were on to trace 30 missing people. However, as many as 623 fishermen from Kanyakumari district are yet to be traced, said collector Sajjan Singh R. Chavan on Sunday.

There is no conclusive data on the number of missing persons, a Union home ministry official said.

“The search and rescue operations have concluded and the teams are no longer there. The fishermen who were out at sea when Cyclone Ockhi had struck, were recalled and issued repeated warnings. There is no conclusive data on the number of missing fishermen as of now," the official said on Tuesday, requesting anonymity.

In contrary, fisheries minister of Tamil Nadu D. Jayakumar on Tuesday said, “Search operations are on full swing and it will continue till the last fisherman is rescued."

He also added that so far, 3,262 fishermen have been rescued and search operations are on for 462 fishermen.

On 7 December, on the southern tip of the country at Kanyakumari, thousands of fisherfolk began their protests against government inaction in the aftermath of cyclone Ockhi.

Fisherfolk from across eight fishing villages marched more than 10km from various fishing hamlets to reach the Kuzhithurai railway station and blocked tracks. They shouted slogans demanding that cyclone Ockhi be declared a national calamity.

As protests, demonstrations and processions intensified in Kanyakumari, cases were registered against at least 15,000 people.

Fisherfolk are not happy with the response from National Disaster Management Authority chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A release from the Tamil Nadu state government on 1 December said the prime minister had assured the chief minister in a telephonic conversation “to give the required assistance".

“Before seeking help from the centre to send out the Navy, the state should have sent the Coast Guard for rescue work on 1 December, but they beginning to act on the 5th," said John Leonard, a fisherman from Enayam Puthenthurai village in Kanyakumari district, and president of fishermen association Neithal Ezhuchi Peravai.

The chief minister finally visited the district on Tuesday.

Leonard said the state and central governments should “extend their search beyond 150 nautical miles".

“Our fishermen are involved in deep sea fishing and with the cyclone, they could have gone even deeper into the sea," he added.

Over the last two weeks, fishermen have been questioning the delayed cyclone warning. The state government issued the cyclone warning on 29 November evening—by then the cyclone had already hit the coast.

According to the government, some fishermen are on safe shores in Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Lakshadweep.

“If the Coast Guard and the Navy had acted swiftly, we could have saved many lives. The response from the both the centre and state has been pathetic. What is the purpose of the government, if it doesn’t help its people?" asked Leonard.

Shaswati Das from New Delhi contributed to this story.

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