KARACHI, April 3: The Pakistan Maritime Security Agency has arrested 23 Indian fishermen and seized their four boats allegedly for fishing in the Pakistani waters.

PMSA officials said in a statement issued on Tuesday that the fishermen with their boats were apprehended for poaching well inside Pakistani waters — some 70 nautical miles — on Monday. They said the action was taken by a PMSA unit during its routine patrolling.

The statement said the detained fishermen were later handed over to the Docks police station for further investigation.

The fresh arrests, if convicted and imprisoned, will raise the number of Indian fishermen in Pakistani jails to over 450 while nearly 100 Pakistani fishermen are languishing in Indian prisons, according to the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, a non-government organisation that represents the fishermen community in Pakistan.

The NGO regretted the approach of the authorities on both sides of the border on the issue but observed that the Indian government was more to blame for a slow process of the release of fishermen — a very poor segment of society — under a special prisoner exchange programme exclusively for fishermen.

“Pakistan had recently released more than 100 Indian fishermen on humanitarian grounds,” said PFF chief Mohammad Ali Shah, adding that unfortunately, none of the two countries was showing a keen interest in this crucial issue. The real loser in the whole scenario appeared to be the fishermen community, he said.

The PMSA statement accused Indian fishermen of consistently intruding into the marine rich Indus delta of Pakistani waters to poach high quality fish at the cost of local fishermen's livelihood. “This results in the depletion of local fish stocks and causes damage to the ecology,” it said.

The PFF chief maintained that the violation of invisible and unmarked sea border by fishermen of both Pakistan and India should be taken leniently and differently from such cases involving other citizens.

In order to resolve the same issue with Sri Lanka, India has struck a deal with that country and now the matter is tackled by a steering committee comprising the two countries' relevant officials and representatives of the fishermen community, said Mr Shah.

“The committee looks into the frequent arrests of fishermen and also arranges their release on an urgent basis,” he said, adding that a similar deal must be made between India by Pakistan.

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