V P Pavithran, a civil police officer at the Kasaba Police station, was on his usual sentry duty on August 26. It was a usual day for him till he received an unusual message in his wireless set around 1.30 pm. It was a cry for help. It sounded like the last desperate call made by someone in danger.
Pavithran could not figure out where the message came from. But one thing was certain. It was an intercepted message sent by some unknown civilians. His prompt action helped save six lives and won him praise from the chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan.
“It was a busy day. There was a protest march by the Muslim League. I had just finished the formalities of collecting details and serving memos to the protesters and gotten back to the wireless,” Pavithran said, recalling the events of that day. “We have multiple tasks when we are on sentry duty. We have to attend to every visitor and address their requirements. If someone is arrested and brought to the station, we have to take care of them. But irrespective of the duties to be accomplished, we are supposed to constantly pay attention to the wireless messages,” he said.
“Usually, cops listen to the codes or names of their respective stations as we are only supposed to follow only those instructions concerning our station limit. I could listen to that unusual message only because I was free while finishing some tasks.”
Pavithran does not think that he had done something great. He was, therefore, surprised when Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan congratulated him in his press conference on Saturday.
“I understood that some fishing boat was in danger. The message was a broken single sentence in Malayalam, which, I felt, to be like the desperate last cry of someone dying. ‘Hello, police control room, our fishing boat is sinking, please help,’ the message read. There was no mention of location or who they were”, says Pavithran.
Pavithran is not just a civil police officer, he is also the district president of the Police Association, the organisation of cops. “I called up the control room. I could do it also because of my authority as the district president of the association,” says Pavithran. As the office-bearer of the organisation, Pavithran had wide contacts and authority to call around.
However, no one in the control room heard any such message. The inquiry was passed to all police stations nearby, but no one except Pavithran had listened to the message.
Pavithran contacted one of his friends in the Kerala coastal police and informed him about the unusual call for help. Although no one had got such a message, they took it seriously and alerted the cops patrolling in the sea and other fishermen who were out fishing. Fishermen use a wireless set in addition to mobile phones while they go to the deep sea for communicating both with fellow fishermen and the police. The message that fell on Pavithran’s ears was sent from one such wireless device.
The coastal police, fishermen, and the coast guard conducted an intense search and found a boat 17 nautical miles away from the sea floating and sinking slowly, about half-an-hour after Pavithran received the message.
There were six fishermen in the boat. All of them were brought to the port safely.
Xavier Benjamin, a fisherman and engine driver who had sent the message, is yet to recover from the shock. “We had set off from Bepur port (Calicut) on Monday (August 24). We were in the sea for three days,” he said. “On Wednesday (August 26), I was taking a rest and someone else was operating the engine. Suddenly, we noticed a crack in the boat through which water was slowly coming in. Like the Titanic, the front portion of the boat started sinking slowly. We were terrified,” Benjamin said.
“We had empty water cans, which we tied to both sides of the boat. Then I called up a couple of my friends who were also in the sea. But both the teams were quite far from our location and we knew they would take two hours to reach us. I then pressed the wireless set and listened to some messages and understood that cops were on the other side. I then sent this message for help. However, I received no reply. I was not sure if the message had reached someone. We had lost all hope as half the boat was under water. Half an hour after the message, we noticed two boats coming towards us.”
Benjamin did not realise till the next day that they were rescued because of a civil police officer. “We were later told that the message we sent through the wireless was received by some cops and that they had informed the fishermen and the coast guard. Pavithran called me the next day and told me what had happened,” he said.
Though his heart is filled with gratitude to whoever acted on time and rescued him and the others, he says fishermen are discriminated against a lot. “The government had promised satellite phones to all fishermen, but we have not received any. If we had had satellite phones, we would not have been as terrified as we were, as communication would have been easier.”
Pavithran, too, feels sorry for fishermen. “They were sleeping in boats after they reached the shore. We must have temporary resting rooms for them attached to all ports,” he said.