25 Indians in Pakistani waters owing to an engine failure face jail for ‘illegal entry’

Jugal R. Purohit

Families of 25 Indian seamen are in extreme trauma after their men were detained by authorities in Gwadar port, Pakistan last week. Their vessel, which was on its way to Dubai, had suffered an engine breakdown and drifted towards the Pakistani port of Pasni when they and another vessel which came for help were both detained by authorities there. Compounding the issue is the fact that despite the efforts of the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) Mumbai to inform this case as that of distress, authorities in Pakistan have instead termed it a case of illegal entry, leaving the families distraught.

According to information accessed, the case pertains to two mechanised sailing vessels, MSV Al-Faruqi and MSV Al-Burhan. The first of these two vessels suffered an engine failure and drifted towards the China-controlled Pakistani port of Gwadar on April 13, 2013. Called for help, the latter reached the spot where Faruqi was anchored on April 19, 2013. The crew on both the vessels was taken ashore by the authorities.

The Indian Coast Guard (ICG), which was contacted only on April 20 by the owners of the ship and their association, made direct communication twice to the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) which mans the MRCC Karachi. In the first fax sent to PMSA by MRCC at 2045 hrs on April 20, ICG had sought details of the whereabouts of the crew and condition of the vessels. Again on April 22, at 0900hours, PMSA was contacted again by MRCC. Making the case for the release of the two vessels, the fax stated, “Both the vessels are on innocent passage from India to Dubai and MSV Al-Faruqi was in distress due to engine failure and Al-Burhan was rendering assistance.” Terming it as a normal practice, MRCC Mumbai further requested that, “the vessels be released after ascertaining the facts of the case”.

ICG sources, however, informed that Pakistan had communicated to them that the vessels will be treated for illegal entry and not as distress cases. As a result, ICG has forwarded the case details to the Director General of Shipping (DGS) as well as the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) who are competent to tackle such cases. Additionally, the Salaya Sailing Vessels Owner’s Association, under whom the vessels were registered, has approached the ICG, DGS, Ministry of Defence as well as MEA for seeking their release.

Speaking from Jamnagar, AH Bhaya of the Salaya Sailing Vessels Owner’s Association, said, “The condition of our men and their vessels is delicate. The cargo onboard the vessel (1317 heads of livestock) is stolen. It is an international practice to help someone in distress and not arrest them. We appeal to the Pakistani authorities to keep this is mind.”

According to a senior officer of the Defence Ministry, “For no fault of theirs, these people are in trouble. Part of their woes are also because they did not keep us informed about their journey. These wooden mechanised sailing vessels or dhows need to be better regulated so that when they are in trouble, we can help faster. Here they approached us only a week after the incident.”

It was also learnt that the Indian High Commission in Islamabad had contacted the Pakistan Foreign Office in this regard and a preliminary report was awaited from the authorities there.

Via: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/