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KARACHI: The Indian Coast Guard (ICG) has arrested nine Pakistani fishermen for having crossed over to Indian waters along with confiscating their fishing boat.

All the fishermen hail from Ali Akbar Shah Goth of Karachi’s Ibrahim Hyderi. The incident took place late on Saturday night.

According to information reaching here from Gujarat, all the nine crew members of the boat, Al Ayesha, were escorted to Okha port before being handed over to the local marine police for investigation.

The Hindu reported on its website on Sunday night that the ICG ship Meera Behn, had noticed a Pakistani fishing boat in Indian waters while patrolling close to the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).

Al Ayesha was then chased and boarded by Meera Behn’s crew following which the fisherman were arrested for fishing illegally in Indian waters.

The Indian Express also reported on its website on Sunday that the incident occurred on Saturday at about 6.55pm Indian Standard Time, which corresponds to 6.25pm Pakistan Standard Time.

Only recently, as a goodwill gesture on the occasion of independence days of both India and Pakistan, the two countries had released fishermen arrested at sea and serving months or years-long sentences in the prisons of both countries.

India released 14 Pakistani fishermen, including three minor boys, on Aug 7 and handed them over to Pakistani authorities at the Wagah Border. And Pakistan released 26 Indian fishermen from Malir Jail on Aug 12, who were also handed over to Indian authorities at the Wagah Border.

Despite the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea being against the arrest of fishermen at sea, both India and Pakistan have been arresting fishermen belonging to either country for the violation of territorial limits.

Pakistani fishermen were often arrested by the ICG at Sir Creek — a disputed territory between the two countries. The fishermen, meanwhile, say that they can never tell if they are within their territory or have moved past it as there is no demarcation in the sea.

Ali Akbar Shah Goth, where the men arrested on Saturday hailed from, is predominately a Rohingya community area. The Burmese settled there also call themselves Bengalis. But the problem for many living there is that they cannot prove their nationality as they don’t have a national database and registration authority identity card made as yet.

When the Indian government is not sure of their nationality, it won’t know where to deport them after they have served their sentence until Pakistan recognises them as its own. Most such fishermen from Pakistan languish in Indian jails even years after serving their sentence until their identity and nationality is confirmed.

Then even after being released from jails the fishermen, be they Indian or Pakistani, never again get to see their boats, which they build themselves and which are worth hundreds of thousands of rupees.

Published in Dawn, August 21st, 2018