THE 57 fishing trawlers, released by Pakistan, reached Porbandar port on Gujarat coastline on Monday evening, even as government officers said the repatriated boats will be handed over to their owners the next morning.
“The boats have reached near the port and presently, customs clearance is going on. They are likely to be allowed entry into the port from 6:30 pm onwards Monday,” Madhukar Makwana, in-charge assistant director of fisheries of Porbandar told The Indian Express over phone.
Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) had handed the boats over to the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) some 140 nautical miles off Porbandar at the Indo-Pak International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) in the Arabian Sea on Sunday. ICG ships Rajratan and Vijit escorted the ships to Porbandar. The repatriated ships were towed by other fishing trawlers. Out of the 57 boats, 47 are registered at Porbandar port, five at Vanakbara in Diu, three at Mangrol and two at Okha.
“After completing due process, Gujarat Fisheries Minister Babubhai Bokhiria will hand over the boats to their original owners at a ceremony on the jetty of Gujarat Maritime Board in Porbandar port at 10 am on Tuesday,” Makwana further said.
Manish Lodhari, secretary of Gujarat chapter of Indian Fishworkers Forum, also confirmed that the boats had reached near Porbandar port.
The boats had been seized by MPSA in the year 2013-14 for allegedly straying towards the Pakistan side of IMBL while on fishing trips. In a release, Press Information Bureau (PIB), Ahmedabad said each fishing boat was worth approximately Rs 25 lakh to Rs 30 lakh. The Indian government provided Rs 1.28 crore for repair and return of the boats to India, the release further said.
This is for the first time that Pakistan has released any Indian boat in more than a decade. The western neighbors had repatriated 53 Indian boats back in 2003-04.
Pakistan had announced to repatriate these boats in July last year as a goodwill gesture after Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif to attend swearing-in ceremony of the former last May. However, the process had come to a halt in August last year after India called off foreign secretary-level talks in protest of Pakistan High Commissioner to India met Kashmir separatist leaders ahead of dialogue.
However, Pakistan had renewed the offer in February this year after two PMs talked over phone ahead of India-Pakistan match in the ongoing cricket World Cup and had set the deadline of March 31 to claim the 57 boats. To bring the boats back, an eight-member delegation comprising officers from the Gujarat fisheries department and leaders of fishermen community had gone to Karachi on March 10.
As of January 2015, 890 fishing boats of Gujarat were in custody of Pakistan, the data available with state fisheries department revealed. In the ongoing fishing season that began in August last year, 60 boats Gujarat boats have been seized for alleged violation of the maritime boundary. On the other hand, around 100 Pakistan fishing trawlers are in custody of Indian authorities.