At a time when any sign of a Pakistani trawler near Indian waters is enough to raise a nationwide alarm, it is common to see abandoned boats dotting the creeks of Gujarat’s Kutch that shares its border with Pakistan.
These Pakistani trawlers were seized by Indian marine border security agencies over the last 10-15 years for trespassing. Those seized five to 10 years before the 1999 cyclone washed away with waves.
Gujarat has a porous 1,660-km-long coastal area considered sensitive because of its proximity to Pakistan. Indian marine agencies have intercepted several Pakistani boats, mostly fishing vessels, from Sir Creek.
While their crew members were arrested and investigated, these boats have been gathering dust on the marshy shores where Pakistani fishermen continue to land in search of a lucrative fish catch.
Many of these boats have been seized in the last couple of months, especially after Pakistan’s national security adviser Naseer Khan Janjua’s purported alert to his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval in March about 10 terrorists entering India through the Gujarat border using such trawlers.
The latest seizure with nine Pakistani fishermen came last week amid heightened patrolling along the borders even as tension between India and Pakistan has been rising over the surgical strikes across the Line of Control in September.
Every single arrest made headlines. But the boats in the custody of the customs department lie in neglect at various creeks including Sir Creek, Harami Nala, Narayan Sarovar and Koteshwar as well as at Porbandar and Okha harbours.
“There are around 100 Pakistani trawlers in the custody of customs department in Kutch,” an officer said.
The department has preserved every item, right from a match box to fishing nets and GPS found on board.
“You never know. If they (Pakistani fishermen) win the case, the department is supposed to return every single item,” the customs officer added.
As court cases drag through the years, clearance of these boats mostly through auctions is nowhere in the sight. Also, most of them are no longer in a shape to go back to the sea. Even after the cases do get over, most of the trawlers continue to remain ashore because of their poor condition and a long-drawn auction process.
“We need clearance from the central government to initiate an auction,” an officer said.
Fishermen say by the time these trawlers come under the hammer, most of their parts, including engines, are no longer in a working condition.
“During the last auction, I had bought a trawler for Rs 60,000. I spent almost an equal amount to make it work but still it didn’t last long. Now, not many fishermen are interested in buying Pakistani boats because of their poor condition,” Hasam Bhadala, president of Narayan Sarovar Fishermen Association, said.
Only three boats were auctioned then. And the deal for one of the boats, which was impounded for drug smuggling, was later cancelled.
“The problem is that nobody is looking after these trawlers, even from the security point of view. Once the interrogation is over and chargesheets are filed, the boats are dumped here,” Bhadala added.
On the other hand, Pakistan that has apprehended over 900 Indian trawlers over the last two decades does not wait for the court cases to get over.
“Many Indian trawlers have been auctioned and are now being used by Pakistani fishermen. Others are also being used by its security agencies for various purposes,” Velji Masani, secretary of National Fishworkers’ Forum, said.
Masani was part of an Indian delegation that visited Pakistan twice in 2014 to take stock of Indian trawlers after Pakistan agreed to return them.
“But in two years, only 57 boats have been returned by Pakistan,” he said.