Crab catchers out fishing in the Sunderbans fell to pirates on Wednesday.
The pirates laid siege to five fishing vessels at Kultali Khal near Jhila forest in the Sunderbans coastal police station area and fled with a sizeable booty, including five quintals of crabs.
The sleuths have since begun a probe into the incident, but have made little headway in hunting down the culprits, said sources.
“We set out in five vessels to net crabs in the Kultali Khal about a week back. My fellow catchers Nemai Halder, Manoranjan, Jagannath and Haripada Baidha (all residents of Chotomolakhali) were manning the other boats. We were on the way back with our haul on Wednesday afternoon, when a gang of five pirates stopped our boats near the Vidhya forest. They held us at gunpoint and dragged our vessels to the bank. They then seized two of our boats and fled with our haul towards Canning.
We briefed the villagers after reaching Chotomolakhali, who then relayed the news to the police station. But no help arrived for hours hence,” Nemai Baidha, one of the crab catchers, said.
“They took away all our crabs and we have since had to borrow some from locals to get by. Such incidents are a threat to our livelihood,” Baidha said.
“Barely a couple of weeks back, three fishermen were abducted and later released after being looted of all their catch. The abductors forced them to net crabs at their bidding for three days before letting them go at the Maipit-Deulbari area of Kultali. We lodged an FIR, but the police did little,” Krishnapada Mondal, a resident of Chotomolakhali, said. Samiran Mondal, a local, echoed a similar refrain and accused the cops of going slow in the case.
They claimed such incidents have grown in number on account of lax vigilance of the coastal waters by forest guards, who they said are known to hold up catchers and milk them of cash or catch under different pretexts.
Nemai said that with the crabs currently selling for a princely ` 28,000 per quintal, the catchers continue to fall to the pirates, especially in the forested areas lining the coast.
He said the pirates pulled guns at the catchers and made off with crabs and whatever they could lay their hands on in the vessels.
“They took five quintals of crabs, which would fetch no less than Rs 1.40 lakh in the market. We relayed the news to the forest officials patrolling the area, but they turned a deaf ear. We then rang up the coastal police station, but no help arrived,” Nemai said.