Fisherman at sea

Fishermen protest against Maritime Security Agency

On January 21, fishermen from Baba Island made a protest demonstration against the alleged highhandedness of the Maritime Security Agency. None of the fishermen took their boats to the sea for fishing, says Muhammad Shoaib, a boat-owner. He says hundreds of fishermen gathered at the Baba Island and parked their boats and held a rand convention against the “unethical attitude of the security agency towards fishermen”.

Shoaib said that they respect the security officials but resented being “treated like residents of an enemy country” by the law enforcement officials at sea.

“None of the authorities concerned are ready to listen to us or address our issues,” he adds.

Saeed Baloch, a representative of Karachi Fishermen’s Cooperative Society tells The News on Sunday that fisherfolk don’t need any port clearance (PC) certificate from the Customs Department for fishing in Pakistani territory.

“If a ship is going abroad or returning from abroad it needs a port clearance certificate. Pakistani fishermen need no such certificate for fishing in their own sea,” he says.

If a boat has a 13-day port clearance certificate from Customs Department and remains at sea for as much as 15 days, the crew members have to face serious questioning by the MSA and the Customs and a ban is imposed on then for fishing for the next month or two, says Baloch. He says poor fishermen in the coastal areas of Sindh as well as Balochistan are facing serious difficulties on account of such attitudes.

“It was Sunday when I reached open sea at 9:30 am on my boat”, says 40-year-old Mehboob.

“I was unexpectedly stopped by the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) officials at the official check post. The duty officer told me that I could not go for fishing and ordered me to go back home with the boat,” he continues.

“As I got back to the jetty, an official boat approached. I was taken to the check post and they seized five fishing nets and boat documents including my CNIC,” Mehboob tells TNS. He says the MSA officials were very rude. “They insulted me at the check post.”

Mehboob is not alone. Several fishermen have complained about the harsh attitude of the security agencies towards them.

“The Sindh government’s Livestock and Fisheries Department has approved a 25-millimetre net that we use for fishing but my net and documents of my boat, Al-Haseeb (No B-19123) are still with the maritime security officials,” he says. He says he is jobless these days and has no alternative source of income. Without the documents he cannot to go for deep-sea fishing.

In such cases fishermen are often deprived of their livelihood. A large population of fishing families is settled in coastal areas of Karachi like Ibrahim Hyderi and on Baba and Bhit islands. They say they face difficulties with security officials on a daily basis.

Essa, a 50-year-old, alleges that on December 3, 2020 his boat (No B-19106) Al-Khizer was stopped near Charna Island. He says security officials seized his CNIC and boat papers.

“The law enforcement officials asked me why there were children on the boat during a fishing expedition”, he says. “I told them that everybody on board was over 18 years of age and that they all carried their CNICs. The security officials took all our CNICs and papers and have not returned those so far,” he says.

Essa tells TNS that he has been visiting the security agency’s office daily to get his documents back but has not been successful as yet.

“I have written applications to the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency director general, the Interior Ministry, the Sindh Fisheries Department and our MNA, Abdul Qadir Patel, asking them to take notice of this issue the fishermen have been facing for the two decades,” Essa says.

A senior officer at the Livestock and Fisheries Department tells TNS that during the regime of former president Gen Pervez Musharraf (retired), the provincial government, through a notification issued on August 18, 2000, authorised the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) to make field inspections at the sea. He says the MSA used to check the CNICs and boat registration documents of fishermen going for fishing in the sea in Pakistani waters.

The government of Sindh withdrew the through a notification issued on September 2, 2019 in this regard. Aijaz Ahmed Mahesar, the secretary to the government of Sindh informs TNS that it is mentioned in the Sindh government’s Fisheries Department notification that the Sindh cabinet decided in a meeting on August 3, 2019, that the powers of inspection delegated to the PMSA vide notification No SO(fish) 5(6) AL&F/2000, 18th August 2000 be withdrawn with immediate effect.

However, Dr AM Mastoi, the Marine & Coastal Fisheries Department director general issued a circular on January 6th, 2021. The circular says that in order to check the registration of fishing boats and fishing licences, a check-post has been established near the PMSA post at Korangi Fish Harbour and that the post will work under the Fisheries assistant director and assistant warden.

The circular says that the fisherfolk and boat owners are requested to coordinate, cooperate and approach the Marine Fisheries director and deputy director for registration and licences before departure for fishing in Sindh Territorial Waters.

Muhammad Ali Shah, the chairperson of Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) tells TNS that he believes that the PMSA is “harassing the fishermen and insulting them, in the name of security, every time they go for fishing in the sea”.

“Maybe some security-related incidents happened in the Sindh and Balochistan coastal areas in the past; and the PMSA, in the name of security is not allowing fishermen on Bundle and other islands where they used to stay during fishing trips to take some rest”, he says.

“Most fishermen depart for fishing in open sea at night time. If any fisherman is going for fishing in daylight the security officials stop and question him, asking why he is going in day time for fishing”, says Shah. He says that the duty of the PMSA is to protect the sea borders “but unfortunately they are harassing Pakistani fishermen”.

“After the withdrawal of inspection powers of the PMSA by the Sindh Fisheries Department, the Maritime Security Agency has no right to inspect the fishermen’s documents, boats and the nets using for fishing”, Muhammad Ali Shah adds.

A Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) officer Ahmed, however, told TNS that the agency was “performing its duties according to the law of the country”. He denied the allegations of highhandedness and says that the PMSA has never harassed fishermen or seized any documents, boats or fishing licences.

Pakistan Maritime Security Agency is deputed in the sea for the security of territory of Pakistani boundaries at sea, he says. “How can the agency take any action against fishermen without a reason? Fishermen have several kinds of issues and the PMSA takes action against them according to the law if anyone is found guilty of a violation”, says Ahmed.

Ahmed says it is their duty to monitor and keep surveilling everyone’s movement in the sea. “Checking the identity of those on the sea is our duty. It is necessary for the safety and security of the country’s sea borders.

The writer is a journalist based in Karachi. He can be reached on Twitter @Zafar_Khan5

Fisherman at sea