MADURAI: The recent killing of a fisherman from Kanyakumari in Bahrain following firing by pirates exposes the plight of Indian fishermen based in West Asian countries. They fish in the seas of the Gulf countries while constantly facing threats from pirates and harassment of maritime authorities. Moreover, they have to bear harsh weather they have never experienced in any part of their own country.
Drawn by the prospects of earning more than what they could earn in India, hundreds of fishermen from the coastal districts of Kanyakumari and Ramanathapuram land up in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman. Their overseas sponsors give a portion of the income from the total catch. Of late, they have realised that they are vulnerable to several hazards.
The threat from pirates is very real, said A Valan and Rajesh, who have been working in Bahrain and are from Mulloorthurai in Kanyakumari district. “We run into pirates mostly from Iran. They seize valuables and fish catch. The shooting on May 21 was unprecedented,” they said.
As the maritime boundaries of the Middle Eastern countries fall very close, fishermen are always in danger of straying into the territories of other countries. “If we limit fishing within a country’s maritime boundary, we will not get a good catch,” Valan revealed the predicament.
M Muthiah is a veteran fisherman at Thoppuvalasai hamlet on Ramanathapuram coast had worked in the Middle East for long. The 55-year-old too said fishing there is indeed risky. “Risk of going beyond neighbouring maritime boundary is always there. Foreign fishing vessels are caught by the coast guard of respective countries. They would seize documents and make the native sponsors pay the penalty. Sometimes, they will arrest fishermen and detain boats as well,” he said.
Another issue Indian fishermen has to bear with is the extreme weather in the Persian Gulf. While fishers toil in extreme hot climate during the summer that runs from April to July, it is very cold after August. “Initially, Indian fishermen had lot of freedom in fishing, but Arab countries have imposed lot of regulations over a period including the reduction of visa period,” Muthiah said.
P Justin Antony of Tamil Nadu Fishermen Development Trust in Kanyakumari said Indian fishermen working in the Gulf countries are in danger of straying into the waters of other countries and thereby getting apprehended. Hundreds of fishermen from Kanyakumari and Ramanathapuram were arrested by Qatar, Iran and Bahrain authorities in 2012 and 2013. “Sponsors have to pay the penalty to redeem boats and fishermen. Till then fishermen stay in prisons,” he said.
Despite all these struggles, the forays to West Asian countries have helped fishermen to come up in life, said U Arulanandam, a fisherman leader in Rameswaram. “There is always a demand for seasoned and skilled fishermen in Gulf countries. They earn well in overseas jobs. Hence many fishermen from Ramanathapuram district prefer working in the Middle East,” he said.
Neptune Note: This article follows the murder of an Indian fisherman from Tamil Nadu last week, allegedly by Iranian ‘pirates’. Click here to access the original.