Doubly tormented fishermen
That a large number of coastal fishermen cannot go fishing in the bay and the estuaries for fear of pirates although the peak hilsa season has already begun, especially with the start of the monsoon, is indeed a grave concern. According to leaders of Bangladesh Khudra Matsyajibi Jele Samiti, as quoted in a New Age report on Friday, just in 10 days till Tuesday, pirates held 216 fishermen to a ransom of Tk 1 lakh each. Moreover, they also took away 35 fishing trawlers and looted fish and other goods worth more than Tk 50 lakh in the period. What is, meanwhile, more worrisome is that although 20 of the abducted fishermen have recently been freed because of a gunfight between the law enforcement agencies and the pirates at Narkelbaria in Sundarban east zone, the BKMJS leaders suspect that there was a nexus among the pirates, politically and socially influential quarters and law enforcers which help around 60 groups of pirates to ‘rule the bay and the coastal belt from St Martin’s Island to Satkhira.’ According to them, until and unless the ring leaders of pirates, believed to live in the mainland, are brought to justice, the operations of the law enforcers will continue to remain a futile exercise. Of course, law enforcers have sought to blame ‘the shortage of speedy vessels and manpower’ for their inability to throw the pirates out of the bay and the estuaries. Overall, under the prevailing circumstances, thousands of fishermen and their family members have to pass their days in hardship.
It may be worth noting that with hilsa, extraordinarily popular in Bangladesh and the Bengali-dominated states of India in particular, becoming elusive for various reasons day by day, it has become a regular phenomenon on part of the government to slap a ban on catching any sort of fish, let alone hilsa, in the coastal areas between December and April, apparently the breeding period of the fish, every season for the last few years. As a result, a huge section of the fishermen of the areas remain jobless and thus largely starve during that period. As BKMJS leaders pointed out, only 1.85 lakh out of about six lakh fishermen get food aid from the government then. Hence, it is needless to elaborate that the situation in question has added to the miseries of those hapless fishermen.
The government needs to realise that the prevalence of the notorious gang of pirates not only deprives the poor fishermen of their livelihood but also hampers the supply of hilsa fish to the market already volatile for a host of reasons. It immediately needs to take adequate steps to effectively rein in pirates in a sustained manner.
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