An overcrowded boat capsized on Sunday off the coast near Katukurunda (Kalutara District), on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka with many Catholics on board. The vessel was taking part in a procession in the sea on the Day of Our Lady of Good Voyage, protectress of fishermen. Attempts by people on other boats to rescue proved in vain for 11 passengers, three of them children.
President Maithripala Sirisena expressed his sincere condolences to survivors and victims’ families, and offering his wishes to the injured for a speedy recovery. Like other years, hundreds of people, Catholics but also Buddhists, joined in the fishermen's celebrations.
After Mass in the Church of Saint Lazarus in Beruwela, Archdiocese of Colombo, around 60 kilometers (37 miles) south of the capital, the faithful set sail on their boats, about 20, one with the statue of Our Lady (Sindathri Deva Maatha Feast) decorated for the occasion. Witnesses told police that "the boat capsized as it was turning. It was not equipped for the trip and lacked minimum safety conditions."
Although it could carry at most 25-30 passengers, witnesses said that "more than 40 people were on board, but no one knows for sure the exact number." Rescuers recovered 11 bodies, and saved 18 people who were taken to hospitals in Nagoda Kalutara and Beruwela.
One survivor told AsiaNews that "the tradition of gathering on boats to ask the Virgin for protection ahead of the fishing season is well established. This year a priest, Fr Kennedy, came from Negombo parish. He co-celebrated Mass with the parish priest, Fr Chaminda Roshan." The boat upturned as the blessing of the boats was still going on, after the third Hail Mary of the Rosary.
Rescue operations were particularly difficult because of the type of boat. The Sri Lankan Navy deployed several ships and the Air Force sent a recovery helicopter.