Two fishermen were killed and three others reported missing when an unidentified ship collided with their boat off Alappuzha coast in the early hours on Thursday, the second incident involving fishermen in the Kerala coast in the last fortnight.
Two fishermen were rescued by the crew of other boats in the sea, district authorities said.
The boat, Dwan-II, had ventured to sea from Neendakara fishing harbour on Sunday with seven fishermen aboard. The Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Enforcement have launched a search to spot and identify the ship and find out how exactly the mishap occurred, Alappuzha District Collector Saurav Jain said.
A rescued fisherman said the boat was anchored at sea and was hit by the ship. The deceased were identified as Francis Justine and Xavier, both from Kollam district. The rescued fishermen were brought to Thottappaly fishing harbour in Alappuzha district and rushed to hospital.
Michael, a fisherman who reached ashore without any serious injuries, told reporters that their boat was hit by the ship despite the fishermen giving it sufficient signals.
"The incident happened around 1 am when it was quite dark in the sea. The boat was hit by the ship despite us signalling to it about our presence. It was an oil tanker and was ill-lit at that time," Michael said. "The boat overturned as soon it was hit by the ship. We escaped as we were able to remain afloat for half an hour," he said.
In Kochi, Coast Guard sources said the incident occurred about 15 nautical miles off Manakkodam off Alapuzha coast early this morning.
A defence press release said a massive search has been launched by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard to locate the merchant vessel.
Four ships and a Dornier aircraft has been deployed to trace the unknown merchant ship which hit the fishing vessel 'Don I' at sea in Alapuzha district at about 3 am today. Four fishermen are reportedly missing and three have been rescued by other fishing boats in the area, it said.
INS Sarvekshak from Southern Naval Command and ICGS Savitribai Phule, which were at sea, were diverted to the area while Coast Guard Interceptor Boats- C 144 from Kochi and C 143 from Vizhinjam also sailed out to augment search and rescue efforts.
A Coast Guard Dornier aircraft was launched early on Thursday morning, while one more ship from the Southern Naval Command would sail shortly to join the search, the release said.
The incident comes close on the heels of killing of two fishermen from the same area allegedly by two naval guards of the Italian ship 'Enrica Lexie' on February 15.