Foreign fishing boats straying into Qatari waters has now become a regular phenomenon. With Qatar's Coast Guard detaining a Bahraini fishing boat yesterday, the total number of boats detained by the authorities at a single point off Qatar over the last three months has reached 13.
As some of the boat owners have failed to pay the fine imposed on the erring vessels, the captains of the vessels are marooned off the Ruwais coast.
The coastal surveillance team of Qatar's Coast Guard and its patrolling department have seized seven Bahraini vessels for crossing into Qatari waters since May this year. The team detained four boats on May 5. Another two were detained over the next two weeks and the last seizure occurred yesterday.
The Coast Guard released the fishermen immediately. However, the boats and their captains will be allowed to go only after payment of the QR50,000 imposed on each boat, it is learnt.
The Coast Guard had detained another six boats, all coming from Saudi Arabia, on May 6. Each Saudi boat had five fishermen on board, including the captain. Since the owners of the Saudi vessels were quick to act, the boats and the fishermen were released immediately by the Qatari authorities.
"We were told by the Qatari authorities to pay QR50,000 for the release of each boat. We have been repeatedly telling our sponsor to pay the money and release us. But he is yet to act," Selvakumar, captain of one of the Bahraini boats, told The Peninsula.
"Until recently, we have been living inside the boats braving the sizzling sun and horrendous humidity. The other day we moved into a place that was arranged by some community organisation. A local hotel is providing us free food," he said.
Selvakumar said the boats set out from the Bahraini coast on May 4. They were surrounded by the Coast Guard the next night at around 10pm. "It was raining heavily on the night and we were not aware we had crossed the borders. After Qatar's Coast Guard took us into custody, we realised that we had strayed almost five kilometres into Qatar's territorial waters," he said.
All the detained fishermen are Indian residents of Bahrain. The Indian Ambassador to Qatar, Dr George Joseph, told this paper he will visit the men tomorrow to take stock of the situation.