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Sole survivor of ill-fated expedition returns home

By Biyanka Nanayakkara

Twenty-eight-year-old Mahesh Padmakumara, the sole survivor of the five-member crew of the Dinusha II trawler whose fishing expedition on high seas off Somali coast came to a tragic end, was miraculously rescued by the Maldivian coastguards on October 20. Mahesh, who was later handed over to the Sri Lankan High Commission in Male, was flown back home last Wednesday. Mahesh recounted his four-month long ordeal on high seas in an interview with our sister paper RIVIRA.

Rainy weather no deterrent
March 19 was a rainy day.
The downpour that began in the morning was continuing with no let-up when the multi-day trawler with its five-member crew set off on their fishing expedition from the Beruwela fisheries harbour about 5pm.
The skipper was Ajith Priyantha.
The other four fishermen were U K Nihal, Ranjith Nimalsiri, Amal Premaratne and Mahesh who was the youngest and the least experienced of the crew.
Some of their kith and kin and the owner of the trawler Nalin Chandrakumara were at the gangplank to see them off.
They had in the trawler’s hold raw provisions and drinking water which were sufficient for about four months.
They were also carrying adequate stocks of fuel and also salt to preserve the catch.
The trawler was equipped with the usual navigational aids including the GPS facility.
The sea was rough due to strong winds that accompanied the heavy showers. However, they were used to rough seas. Besides, they knew that braving inclement weather was part of their life.

Heading for Murusi fishing grounds
They were heading towards the rich fishing grounds around the well known Murusi rock close to Mauritius between Madagascar and the Maldivian archipelago.
They reached the Murusi fishing grounds in 18 days and began trawling with gusto. They harvested a large catch every time they laid the trawl net. Mahesh, Nihal and Amal were tirelessly trawling while Ranjith was busy cooking in the kitchen. They also lost no time in salting and packing in boxes the catch they hauled aboard...
When the blissful night comes after the day’s hard work, they would relax listening to recorded songs or playing cards after a sumptuous meal prepared by Ranjith. Though a night-long sleep was quite welcome, they each had to keep a two hour vigil taking turns.

Passed the AL in Commerce stream
After passing the GCE AL in Commerce subjects, Mahesh began looking for a job. His immediate goal was to build a house where his mother, two sisters and younger brother could live in reasonable comfort. When all his efforts to secure a job proved futile, he decided to take to the readily available vocation: fishing.

Trawling for three months
They spent three months on `Murusi’ fishing grounds. They had finished 250 bags of salt they had brought. All the three freezing holds were packed with fish. Part of the catch was packed in an empty water tank at the stern and in a corner of the bridge area close to the engine room.
Now that they had successfully completed their job, they felt buoyant.

Feeling home-sick
Of the four fuel tanks they had brought, two were already empty and the third one was now connected to the engine. The leftover of the raw provisions was sufficient was another month. Now that their mission was over, they began feeling some-sick. They all began talking about the loved ones back home.
Priyantha, Ranjith, Nimal and Amal were married and they knew that their wives and children were eagerly waiting to see them safe and sound back at home. Mahesh was not married. But he knew that his mother, two sisters and the brother were yearning to see him. They turned back on the homeward journey upbeat and light- hearted on June 4.

1,800 nautical miles away
The GPS (Global Positioning System) on trawler showed that Dinusha II was positioned about 1,800 nautical miles away from the Beruwela coast.
They had been operating the trawler taking turns and Mahesh was in the engine room when it happened.
The time was about 3am. The boat moving fast cutting through the choppy seas suddenly stopped and Mahesh realised to his consternation that the engine had gone dead.
For Mahesh, a novice to sea fishing, stalling of the engine was an unprecedented experience. Panicked, he ran to the cabin where his mates were fast asleep.

He shouted: “Priyantha Aiye! Priyantha Aiye! Enjima hitiya!”
But Priyantha did not seem alarmed. “Mahesh Malli, don’t get frightened .The engine may have run out of oil,” Priyantha said giving a reassuring pat on Mahesh’ back. He presently entered the engine room and turned round after making a brief check.
“The oil tank is exhausted. I connected the remaining tank. Now go and start the engine to resume the journey,”Priyantha told a highly agitated Mahesh.

(To be continued next week)