A DEADLY pirate raid on a Bahraini fishing dhow has sparked a surge in reports of similar incidents in the Gulf.
Indian Embassy first Secretary Ram Singh told the GDN that diplomats had been shocked to receive alarming accounts from Asian crew members suggesting such attacks were “routine”.
It follows an incident last month in which Indian fishing captain Thomas Glattus Soosai was shot dead by pirates, who boarded the Bahraini fishing dhow Mesouth and escorted the rest of his crew below deck at gunpoint.
“We never had any complaints from the community until the death of Mr Soosai,” said Mr Singh.
“Suddenly we see a surge of complaints which the embassy was never notified of before.
“They (fishermen) now say these attacks are routine.”
The news has raised questions over the role of an anti-piracy task force based in Bahrain, which consists of different nations such as the US, the UK and their allies.
Known as Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151), its stated aim is to “disrupt piracy and armed robbery at sea and to engage with regional and other partners to build capacity and improve relevant capabilities to protect global maritime commerce and secure freedom of navigation”.
However, Bahrain Fishermen’s Union chief executive Mohammed Al Faraj claimed attacks on small fishing boats were being ignored because the vessels were not considered important enough to warrant protection.
“The US Navy has its own alert system and it is surprising that these pirates escape their radar,” he said.
“They are ignoring it simply because these attacks do no direct harm to them, but are only a threat to these poor fishermen who they do not care about.”
Mr Al Faraj also called for GCC countries to come together and take a more proactive approach to combat piracy.
“Piracy is a phenomenon that the Gulf leaderships must collectively address,” he said.
“Locally, the Bahraini government must utilise all foreign forces available including the US Navy, apart from the Bahraini naval force, to provide security to this vulnerable group (fishermen).
“Until now it was just looting and robbing the meagre possessions of these poor men, but now it has become a matter of lives under threat.
“They don’t come under stipulated contracts and often sponsors do not address their miserable plight. Embassies prove helpless as well.
“The government cannot be passive any longer about the plight of fishermen.”
Mr Al Faraj also said it was wrong to suggest all pirates operating in the Gulf were from Iran, saying that Pakistanis, Iraqis and Afghans were also known to target fishing dhows.
Mr Soosai’s death at sea has brought attention to the previously unreported risks facing fishermen in the Gulf.
It has now emerged that Mr Soosai had at least two previous encounters with pirates before he was shot by masked men who boarded his dhow 10 nautical miles northwest of Bahrain’s sea border on May 22.
“Mr Soosai told us that during the previous week he faced attacks by masked men who stole money and cell phones,” revealed fisherman Viya Gulam Michael.
“His crew members witnessed this.
“Another time he helped Qatari fishermen whose boat was attacked.
“The attackers left the boat with its engine damaged after its crew were assaulted. Mr Soosai helped them with directions towards their home country, which was risky as his boat could have strayed into Qatari waters and the Qatari Coastguard could have taken them into custody.
“The third time Mr Soosai was severely beaten by masked men because he refused to part with his navigation equipment.”
Mr Michael said such incidents were common, but fishermen had learnt to live with it.
“We have no-one to complain to,” he said.
“Usually the loss is between BD5,000 and BD8,000. They take away the net that we cast in the waters and each strand of the net costs BD10 – around 600 such strands make the full cast.
“The deal with our sponsors is that we get an equal share of the catch, but they are not helpful in situations of loss.
“If the boat is damaged they do not allow us to go fishing and we are left without jobs, money and food.”
Social worker Franklin Antony Rayan said every week community leaders had to take care of three or more fishermen left without food and shelter.
US Navy officials did not comment.