Trapped owing to an accident, their vessels have been destroyed, careers ruined and having completed their jail term, these 25 Indian sailors continue to rot behind bars; MEA passes the buck
By Jugal R Purohit
If the newly-elected Nawaz Sharif government in Pakistan really wishes to make amends, perhaps it should start by rectifying the fate of these 25 Indian sailors. As the holy month of Ramzan begins, for the families and the entire sailing community in Gujarat’s Jamnagar, there is little to celebrate and a lot to pray about. These families, whose men were arrested instead of being helped when their engine broke down causing the ship to drift towards Pakistan, by the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (MSA) in April have lost everything including their cargo and ships. Now, having completed their sentence, these 25 Indians continue to suffer in the jail as the authorities on both sides are unable to get their act together.
Two recent emails sent to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad accessed by this correspondent, show how despite being repeatedly urged, the Indian mission has been unable to help over the last three months.
First was sent by AH Bhaya of the Salaya Sailing Vessel Owners Association to the Indian High Commissioner Sharat Sabharwal on June 25. In this email, Bhaya mentioned that as per the court order, the 25 Indian sailors had served their term and yet continue to remain in jail. He further asked the mission to get in touch with the Gaddani jail authorities to salvage the situation. In another email sent by M/s Gurab Lines, a shipping and cargo handling agent based in Gwadar who is assisting the jailed Indians to the Indian mission, is clearer. “We contacted the Pakistan Coast Guard at Pasni and requested to take over these vessels. They agreed and demanded one authority/attorney letter from your good side where our company must be mentioned. We also received a message from Gaddani Jail, your all 25 crew members are free from the court and jail. Kindly communicate with them and release the all members from Gaddani Jail as soon as possible. Awaiting your positive response.” However, that is yet to come. Reacting to this, a family member said, “I wonder why do we even have such a useless mission over there when neither they can achieve anything nor coerce the Pakistani side into listening to them.”
Displaying helplessness, Syed Akbaruddin, Joint Secretary and spokesperson Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said, “These men remain in custody. Their vessels are not in a condition sail. We have raised the issue several times with Pakistan in Islamabad and in New Delhi. Even the respective Coast Guards have discussed this”. Former foreign secretary and governor Romesh Bhandari said, “Mian Nawaz Sharif’s regime could actually start by resolving cases like these especially when these are bonafide sailors who suffered an accident while on a commercial passage. However I must say that Pakistan, am not referring to the civilian set up there, can be a difficult territory to achieve quick results in.”
Said Adam Bhaya of the Salaya Sailing Vessels Owners Association, “The High Commission has not been even able to meet our men in jail. We have been giving all court papers and certifying documents to them. Please remember these are not fishermen who got greedy. These men are there because of an accident. Unless the government of India really takes it on, these people will continue to suffer.”
MSV Al-Faruqi sailed on April 10 from Tuna port of Gujarat for Dubai with 11 crew members. On April 13, the master discovered the engine had failed, and had began drifting towards Pasni in Pakistan, where she reached and anchored in the early hours of April 18. Then the master informed the master of sister vessel MSV Al-Burhan on April 16 for distress relief and he sailed out on April 16 from Mundhra and reached the anchor spot on April 19 at 10am. When they both reached the spot on April 19, Pakistan MSA arrested them and took them ashore. Indian Coast Guard (ICG), which was contacted only on April 20 by the owners of the ship and their association, made direct communication twice to the Pakistan MSA which mans the MRCC Karachi. In the first fax sent to PMSA by MRCC at 2045 hrs on April 20, ICG had sought details of the whereabouts of the crew and condition of the vessels. Again on April 22, at 0900hours, PMSA was contacted again by MRCC. Making the case for the release of the two vessels, the fax stated, “Both the vessels are on innocent passage from India to Dubai and MSV Al-Faruqi was in distress due to engine failure and Al-Burhan was rendering assistance.” Terming it as a normal practice, MRCC Mumbai further requested that, “the vessels be released after ascertaining the facts of the case”.
(As appeared in India Today Online)