The Pakistan government has decided to release 57 Indian fishing boats which were in its custody as a goodwill gesture, after the release of 150 Indian fishermen in May.
It is for the first time perhaps that the government has agreed to let go of such a large number of boats, according to activists working on the issue of fisherfolk and their release. A press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Pakistan, said a nine-member Indian delegation had visited Karachi from July 18 to 20 in this regard to inspect the boats and discuss modalities for the release with officials of the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA). Among those who went was Veljibhai Masani, from Gujarat who has been lobbying for the cause of fishermen who are detained in Pakistani jails.
Jatin Desai, an activist, said the issue was taken up in the past with the Pakistani authorities particularly after reports that some boats confiscated there were being auctioned. There are over 800 boats in Pakistan belonging to Indian fishermen and many of them were dilapidated and out of use over the years, he said. The press release said while every effort is made by the PMSA to keep the boats in good condition, some minor repairs are still required before the boats could be physically handed over. A follow up visit of Indian officials would take place sometime in August to oversee the repairs before they are returned in mid September, the release said.
Confiscated Indian fishing boats were sold in Pakistan and this became clear when a case was filed in the Sindh High court by contractors who had bought those boats in official auctions. In May, news reports said
the court asked the Karachi Fish Harbour Authority (KFHA) to explain why it was not issuing fishing permits for Indian boats bought by private contractors.
Indian fishermen and boats are often apprehended by PMSA authorities when they violate Pakistan territorial waters. Usually the boats are not in seaworthy condition and are not returned, the release said.
Before coming to India for Mr Narendra Modi’s swearing, Prime Minister Nawaz had announced the release of the fishermen and the boats. After this, hectic efforts were undertaken by the PMSA to ensure that the
boats are returned to their rightful owners.
The Government of Pakistan views the issue of prisoners as a humanitarian one and continues to make efforts for their release as soon as their prison sentence has been completed. It calls upon the Government of India to adhere to the Consular Agreement of 2008 and recommendations of the Judicial Committee on Prisoners to ensure that all those Pakistani prisoners are released whose sentences have been completed, the press release added.