Fishing boats from neighbouring countries like Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia crossing into Qatar’s territorial waters is a frequent phenomenon, it is learnt.
Although fishermen in these boats claim they just drifted into Qatar’s waters, knowledgeable sources say Qatar’s territorial waters have more fish, so boats from neighbouring countries cross over deliberately to get ample catch.
Most of the fishermen coming in from these countries are Indians, so the Indian embassy and its main community welfare arm here rush to their help.
The stranded fishermen are provided food, clothing and other essentials by the Indian Community Benevolent Fund (ICBF), the embassy’s community welfare arm.
The embassy informs its counterparts (Indian missions) in these countries, urging them to contact the owners of the boats concerned so they can come over and pay the fine for the violation.
According to ICBF sources, the fine for a boat crossing into Qatar’s territorial waters for the first time is QR50,000. It doubles to QR100,000 if the violation is repeated and the third time the boat is confiscated.
Normally, if an owner pays the fine, the fishermen are repatriated within two to three weeks, but many a time boat owners fail to turn up, so the matter is referred to the Prosecution.
Fishermen in such cases can remain stranded here for up to six months until the ICBF succeeds in convincing the Prosecution to close the case on humanitarian grounds and repatriate the fishermen, said an ICBF source.
According to Dr Mohan Thomas, president of ICBF, Qatar’s Coast Guard, which intercepts foreign boats entering into Qatar’s territory, and Prosecution are considerate enough and take a humanitarian view of such cases.
“Since this is quite a frequent phenomenon, the GCC states must jointly look for a solution,” Thomas told this newspaper yesterday.
He said last month alone, some 30 Indian fishermen from Bahrain, the UAE and Saudi Arabia strayed into Qatar’s waters, while one boat has been here since March.
Some 20 of these fishermen are from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, while the remaining 10 are from Gujarat, a western Indian province.
Representatives from ICBF, along with embassy officials, visited the fishermen on Wednesday and provided them food, clothing and essentials. The boats are anchored in Al Ruwais (Shamal) and Doha.
Two of the boats are from Bahrain, another two from Saudi Arabia and one is from the UAE, said Thomas. “The Coast Guard allows fishermen to stay in their boat. They cannot, however, set sail,” he said.
The embassy has contacted Indian missions in the above countries and urged them to contact the owners of these boats and arrange the fishermen’s repatriation.
The ICBF looks after the welfare of distressed Indians here, spending hundreds of thousands of riyals yearly on feeding, repatriating and providing financial and medical assistance to needy low-income Indians.
Thomas said food and clothing for the stranded fishermen were volunteered by a local company, Quality Foods.