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A one-man mission

There are some individuals who come to this earth to take what they can get. And then there are others who watch silently and contribute nothing meaningful.

And yet there is a third breed of people, rare as lunar rocks on this planet, who gaze beyond their sphere and strive to make a difference. P. Justin Anthony is one of them. I have known this South Indian gentleman for some time and have to admire the tireless efforts he has exerted over the years for the welfare of South Indian fishermen working in the Gulf for their local sponsors. He has his hands full as incidents of sea pirates attacking hapless fishermen are on the increase. There have been some reported deaths as well.

Then there is the matter of fishermen picked up by the authorities of neighboring countries as their fishing vessel drifts toward the shores of those countries. The fishermen are summarily arrested and locked up, while their fate hangs in a balance.

P. Justin Anthony details some of these incidents. An Indian fisherman was shot to death by unknown intruders while he was fishing in Bahrain in May 2014. Another Indian fisherman was shot to death while fishing in Saudi Arabia this year. Recently, an Indian fisherman was shot and killed while fishing off the coast of Qatar. He was an only son supporting elderly parents and two young sisters back home.

Anthony who spent some years working in the Gulf went back to his home state of Tamil Nadu in India and founded the Tamil Nadu Fishermen Development Trust (TN-FIDET), a UN-recognized voluntary organization. Through fundraising and private donations, the organization provides material and moral support to families who have lost their fisherman husbands or sons through acts of piracy. The organization also follows up on cases where fishermen are arrested and jailed by the authorities in neighboring countries.

He cites an incident where seven Indian fishermen were arrested by the Qatari forces in July. They had gone fishing from Bahrain a couple of days earlier and were detained by the Qatari forces on charges of trespassing. They were produced before the court in Qatar. Four of them were released in August with the rest being set free a week later.

Last December, when three Indian fishing boats and 26 fishermen were arrested by Bangladeshi forces, Anthony’s organization sent representatives to Dakha, appointed an advocate and finally got the boats and fishermen released. One has to understand that these fishermen were not on a pleasure outing. They were manning their sponsor’s boats and their job was to bring in fish to be sold in the market.

Not content to simply solve problems, TN-FIDET has sent a memorandum to the UN to set up a special force (like UNPKO) to eradicate sea pirates. The organization said: “Such a force shall be asked to patrol in the international waters and borders of countries, so that they can catch sea pirates and punish them. In the long run, the menace of sea pirates shall be put to an end.’

TN-FIDET also suggests that countries employing foreign fishermen should sign a goodwill treaty. “When fishermen cross borders due to unexpected wind and current conditions, they should not be punished. Based on the verification of their identity cards, they should be immediately released. International identity cards should be provided to fishermen.”

TN-FIDET is also creating awareness among Indian fishermen about territorial waters and regulations in the various countries where they are recruited to work, as sponsors often do not provide enough information or assistance.

Bahrain was the first Gulf country to publicly support the memorandum sent to the UN calling for the establishment of a “special maritime force” to address sea piracy in Gulf waters. Bahrain Fishermen Union chief executive Mohammed Al-Faraj said: “This is an excellent suggestion, which could be followed up as Iranian pirates are on the top of the list of threats and dangers faced by thousands of fishermen in the country.” It is a recommendation that should be wisely considered by other Gulf countries.

P. Justin Anthony made enough money when he worked in the Gulf to live an easy and comfortable life back home. But that was not his calling. The salvation of fishermen from his community who face peril on Gulf seas in order to eke out a modest living and feed hungry mouths back home has made him an ardent and tireless activist for their welfare. And that is his reward.

How many of us in this world can profess to have similar values?

The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena

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