The Maldivian government has slapped a fine of ₹2.27 crore on a mechanised boat from Tharvaikulam in Thoothukudi district. The vessel was detained recently by the Maldivian Coast Guard for entering the island nation’s waters illegally.
On October 1, the boat belonging to Antony Jayabalan set sail with 12 fishermen from Tharuvaikulam Fish Landing Centre.. On October 22, it drifted into Maldives’ waters due to inclement weather. The Coast Guard of Maldives detained the boat along with the 12 fishermen and their fish consignment.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Fisheries, Marine Resources and Agriculture, Maldives, sent notice to Mr. Jayabalan asking him to appear before its authorities to respond to alleged violations of entering the maritime zones of Maldives without permission, engaging in prohibited form of fishing there and harvesting prohibited species of fishes in the maritime zones of Maldives.
Mr. Jayabalan appeared before them on October 29. Two officials from the Indian High Commission also attended the hearing as observers. He explained that the boat that initially entered the Maldives Maritime Zone on October 19 promptly left the Exclusive Economic Zone of the island nation once the crew realised that they were in Maldivian waters. The boat entered the Maldives Maritime Zone again on due to sea currents, he said.
However, the officials dismissed it saying that there was no evidence of bad weather.
Mr. Jayabalan contended that the attempt to leave the Maldivian waters was hampered after the fishnet got entangled in the propeller of the boat. “It took the crew five hours to untangle the fishnet and another 10 hours to manually retrieve the 10-mile-long nets onboard,” he said.
He also told the officials that they did not seek the assistance of the Maldivian Coast Guard as they usually resolved these issues on their own and their attempt to contact other vessels nearby too failed as their radio system could operate only within 30 km radius.
He claimed they had unintentionally caught around 40 sharks while they were in the process of retrieving the net.
However, the officials said the boat had entered the Maldivian waters for fishing without permission and the boat had 10 tonnes of fish caught with Gillnet. There was no catch log data on the boat, the officials said, while Mr. Jayabalan maintained that they did not usually record the catch details in the logbook.
The officials, after the hearing, slapped a fine of 4.20 million Maldivian Rufiyaa (equivalent to ₹2.27 crore), which should be paid within 30 days upon receiving the penalty notice dated November 1. Mr Jayabalan was allowed to prefer an appeal within five days with the Appeals Committee or submit the matter to the court of Maldives with the prayer of annulling the penalty notice.
“We are helpless now. We have pinned our hopes on Tamil Nadu and Central Governments to sort out the issue and ensure the safe release of the boat with the crew,” Mr. Jayabalan told The Hindu from Male.