When Mohammed Shareef set sail on the boat 'DF 378' from the coast of Dubai on July 21, he and his crew mates expected to be back from the expedition in 10 days.
The 38-year-old fisherman from Bhatkal in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka was consumed with thoughts of catching a good haul of dorsal and hake fishes. "Usually, we are at sea for 10 days. But on the sixth night, the crew was sleeping and unknowingly entered Iranian waters," Shareef told TNM, speaking over the phone. "We were not sure where we were and the GPS on the boat was not working perfectly. But around 7 am on July 27, we were stopped by authorities of the Iranian Navy and taken into custody," he adds.
Since that fateful day, Shareef and his crew mates including boat owner Sheikh Marwan, have been detained on boat arrest at Kish, an island on the southern coast of Iran, for almost four months, unaware of when they can return to their jobs or meet their family.
In total, 18 crew members from two boats, DF 378 and DF 398, are awaiting intervention from the Indian government to secure their release from Iranian police authorities. The crew members hail from Udupi and Uttara Kannada districts of Karnataka and have spent the last four months on the boat desperately reaching out to anyone who can help free them.
"Except for four phones, which is being used by all 18 people, the Iranian police have taken away our phones. We are being given food to eat and water to drink and there is no shortage of supplies but we have not earned salaries for four months," says Shareef describing the plight the stranded crew members.
Many of the crew members are married and almost all are the main earners in their families, which are mainly based in Bhatkal and Kumta, port towns in Uttara Kannada district. Shareef, for instance, has been unable to send money to his wife Nusrat Begum and his eight-year-old daughter Haleema Suwaida, who are living in Bhatkal in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka.
Families of the crew members wrote a letter to Minister of External Affairs of India, Sushma Swaraj, on October 11 requesting the Indian government to intervene and end the detention of the fishermen. "According to crew members, they have been restricted to a single boat under the custody of Iranian authorities. Even though the boat owner who is a UAE National had assured that they would be freed in a couple of days they have been kept in custody since the last two months and a half (sic). They are all worried and frightened for having been imprisoned in a foreign land," reads the letter written by Nazimuddin, the brother-in-law of Shareef.
The fishermen sent a memorandum to district authorities in Uttara Kannada detailing their ordeal on October 8 and also spoke to SS Nakul, Deputy Commissioner of Uttara Kannada district and the Indian embassy in Iran over the phone, and were given oral assurances that their release will be secured soon. "We have informed the Ministry of External Affairs and given them the details of the people detained but we have not received any update since then," said SS Nakul. The crew members also released a video this month appealing to the government to intervene and rescue them.
Officials at the Ministry of External Affairs confirmed to TNM that efforts were underway to rescue the arrested fishermen. "We are aware of the situation. The Indian embassy in Iran have been in touch with the authorities and have been trying to get them rescued. It is not so simple and we are hopeful that they will be rescued soon," said Raveesh Kumar, the official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs.
However, the crew members who have been detained for several months are growing weary of promises. Ibrahim Ahmed, another crew member told TNM that they are currently idling away their days on the boat. "We are not allowed to leave the boat and communication with authorities has been problematic because the authorities here speak only Parsi. We eat our meals for the day and keep waiting for someone to call and tell us that we will be rescued from here," says Ibrahim.
Our fishermen from Karnataka have been detained on a fishing boat for more than a month. @SushmaSwaraj ji, I urge you to speak with our Indian Ambassador in Tehran to provide essential supplies to them immediately and take all measures to secure their immediate release. https://t.co/gb7r2QgouGâ€” Dr. G Parameshwara (@DrParameshwara) November 18, 2018
The fishermen detained are Ibrahim Mulla Faqira, Mohammed Ansar Ismail Babu, Nayeem Hassan Bhandi, Yaquib Ismail Shamali, Innayat Abdul Qadir Shamali and Ajmal Moosa Shamali Ilyas Ambaadi ,Qasim Sheikh Agarkom, Illiyas Ghaaru Baitkuli and Ibrahim Ahmed Hodekar from Kumta, Khalil Ismail Panibudu, Usmaan Ishaaq Bombaikar, Mohammed Sharif Yousuf Bapu , Abdullah Suleiman Dangi, Atheet Suleiman Ghaaru, Matloob Maqdoom Sarang and Jaffar Ibrahim Tadlikar, from Bhatkal and Abdul Mohammed Hussain from Shiroor.