Over a week has passed since American missionary John Allen Chau was killed on the North Sentinel Island of the Andaman Nicobar Islands. Along with it, there came a new sense of fear among the fishermen of the area – as many of them have fished near the protected area, while some of whom admitted it, others didn’t.
In the incident, which has received worldwide attention, seven persons have been arrested, 5 of whom were fishermen. Many of these have admitted of going into the restricted zone – be it for fishing or at the lure of money by foreign tourists, who wanted to photograph the prohibited island and its tribe.
M Raju, general secretary of the Fishermen Welfare Association told Indian express, “The fishing motorboats of Port Blair are allowed within six nautical miles of the shore of the North Sentinel Island.” But the fishermen sail up to 14 nautical miles away from the island to fish, as there is nothing near it.
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Raju also informed that, the area near the island is a good place to fish, as it is untouched. While admitting of the foreign tourists who want to venture near the island, he said, “the fishermen are poor, they get easily lured by the money. Moreover, there are no boundaries in the sea, which would demarket the restricted area, so they are often not aware of how far to go.”
A fisherman B Papa Rao, whose family is in the fishing business for generations told IE that though they have never been near to the island, few years back they have actually the Jarawas sitting along the shore of the island. Why the fishermen still go near the island despite it being dangerous? Rao had a simple answer. “Even five years ago, after a six-hour journey into the sea, we used to catch 600-900 kgs of fish. Whereas now, we need at least two weeks to get the same amount of fish.”
Small motorboats tend to evade the Coast Guard and Navy Patrol ships and go near the restricted area, another fisherman told IE. “They can go near only when the weather is clear, but they never land on the island. Even the foreign tourists never do,” he informed. However, the Coast Guard and Navy vigil is not as strict as it was before, noted another.
Rao explained that earlier a shipping trip used to cost around Rs 15,000, whereas now it costs at least around Rs 40,000-50,000. They usually take out the boats twice a month, with six-sever crew members, who get Rs 3000-4000 each per trip, if the catch is good, else it can be as less as Rs 1000. Moreover, they do not have any kind of insurances, so if anyone dies or gets injured, the government never takes up the responsibility, and the banks never lend out money to the fishermen.
They even tried meeting the Governor to raise their problems, but have not received an appointment since the last two months. According to the fishermen, around 150 small fisher boats and 7 trawlers operate in the Janglighat Jetty of Port Blair. There are other places where the fishing boats are usually anchored, which includes Wandoor, Mayabunder, Diglipur and Chidiya Tapu – from where the American missionary boarded his boat to North Sentinel Island.