Indian fishermen are landing up in Iranian jails as a result of growing tensions between Tehran and its Arab Gulf neighbours, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Nineteen Indian fishermen — 16 hailing from Tamil Nadu and three from Kerala — sailing in four fishing boats from the Saudi port city of Jubail were detained six months ago by Iranian authorities, apparently for breaching the maritime border between the two countries. “In the past such incidents have taken place, but usually the fishermen have been released after a brief period under detention,” says Shamsudheen Chettippadi, a social activist with the Kerala Muslim Cultural Center (KMCC) in Jubail.
But coinciding with the deteriorating relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, evident from the intense competition for regional influence between the two heavyweights in countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, Iraq and Yemen, the detention of the Indian fisherman sailing from Saudi Arabia has been unusually prolonged.
The 19 have served their six months detention sentence, but a new complication has now arisen. Apparently, the fishermen can be freed only if each of them pays a penalty of $5,750.
Diplomatic sources confirmed the case of detention of the 19, but declined to comment on the pending cash penalty. Mr. Shamsudheen told The Hindu that the members of the KMCC had apprised India’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Hamid Ali Rao and the Deputy Chief of Mission, Sibi George of the plight of the detained fishermen during an “open-house” meeting in Jubail that was held in April. Two other meetings have taken place — the third earlier this month in the eastern oil city of Al Khobar, where the payment of the cash penalty that has been imposed was also discussed in the presence of the Saudi sponsors of the fishermen. However, the fate of the seafarers is in limbo as the Saudi employers have declined to pay the hefty penalty involved.
Another Indian fisherman from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has apparently been also caught in the crossfire between Iran and its Gulf neighbours. Iran’s English language broadcaster Press TV is reporting that 12 UAE nationals and one Indian have been arrested for trespassing, what the report said, were Iranian territorial waters.
Disputed Abu Musa Island
Iran has been in control of the Abu Musa Island at the mouth of the Persian Gulf since 1971, but the UAE has disputed Iran's official position. “The [Iranian] forces at Abu Mousa Marine Patrol Base detected two intruding UAE vessels fishing in the Persian Gulf waters and issued the order for capturing them,” Press TV quoted commander of the base, Colonel Ali Vesali as saying. “After seizing the two vessels, the Iranian forces arrested 12 Emirati sailors and an Indian sailor on board the boat[s] and transferred them to a military dock,” he added.
Relations between Iran and the Arab Gulf countries have deteriorated after the Arab Spring, and have since acquired a sharp sectarian dimension.
The headline for this article has been changed for the sake of greater clarity and to avoid any unintended confusion.