Marking a high in relationships between two neighbours, Pakistan handed 57 fishing boats back to India on Sunday. This is for the first time in more than a decade that Pakistan has repatriated any Indian boat it had detained for allegedly violating maritime boundary line in the Arabian sea.
Escorted by Pakistan Marine Security Agency (PMSA), Pakistani fishermen tugged the 57 Indian fishing trawlers at International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) 105 nautical miles off Karachi, at around 2 pm, fishermen leaders of Gujarat said. Later on, the PMSA handed the boats to Indian Coast Guard after completing formalities.
“The boats reached IMBL, some 140 nautical miles of Porbandar at 2 pm. After due verification, the Indian Coast Guard gave the possession of the 57 boats to Gujarat fisheries department officials and marine police at around 6 pm. The two agencies are bringing the boats to Porbandar with the help of 57 other trawlers,” said Manish Lodhari, secretary of Gujarat chapter of Indian Fishworkers Forum.
Pakistan had announced to repatriate these boats in July last year as a goodwill gesture after after Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif to attend swearing-in ceremony of the former last May.
Pakistan had renewed the offer in February this year and had set the deadline of March 31 to claim the 57 boats which had been detained by PMSA in year 2013-14.
All of these boats belong to Gujarat fishermen and most of them have been registered at Porbandar harbour. To bring the boats back, a delegation comprising Gujarat fisheries department officers and fishermen leaders had flown to Karachi early this month. After talks, Pakistani authorise had agreed to deliver the boats at IMBL by towing them from Karachi port with the help of Pakistani fishermen. The boats had left Karachi port Saturday morning.
“The boats have been handed over to us and they will reach Porbandar on Monday evening. We shall begin to hand over these repatriated boats to their original owners from Tuesday onwards,” Madhukar Makwana, assistant director of fisheries at Veraval told The Indian Express over phone.
This is for the first time that Pakistan released any Indian fishing boats since year 2003-04. According to fisheries department officers, around 800 fishing boats of Gujarat have been detained by PMSA in last one decade and fishermen leaders fear a majority of them must have turned scrap now.
In the current fishing season — which began from August — 60 Gujarat boats have been seized for allegedly crossing over Pakistani side of the IMBL. However, arrested fishermen allege that PMSA abducts them from Indian waters.
“This is a very good step by Pakistan. Now India should reciprocate by releasing around 100 fishing boats of Pakistan,” Lodhari further said.
In a release, the Defence public relations officer in Gandhinagar confirmed that Indian Coast Guard had deployed two ships for the assignment.
“Indian Coast Guard Ship Vijit and Rajratan on 22 Mar 2015 (Sunday) afternoon took over the custody of 57 Indian Fishing Boats (IFBs) returned by Pakistan Maritime Security Agencies (PMSA), as goodwill gesture, near Indo-Pak International Maritime Boundary Line. The 57 IFBs are being escorted by the two ICG ships for passage to Porbandar and are expected to arrive late evening on 23 Mar 2015 (Monday),” said wing commander Abhishek Matiman, the PRO.
The release further stated that the two ICG ships took officers of the state government at sea to receive the boats.
“The 57 IFBs are under tow by equal number of hired trawlers along with 416 crew that sailed from Porbandar under the escort of ICG ships late in the nights of 20 Mar 2015 (Friday). Also 10 officials from state Fisheries Department, Marine Police and Information Department had embarked on-board ICGS Vijit and proceeded to IMBL for handing/taking over formalities. These IFBs were registered in Gujarat and Daman & Diu and earlier apprehended by PMSA in the year 2013-2014 while they strayed into Pakistani waters,” Matiman added.