India – Gandhinagar, Rs 153-crore new security system will prevent vessels from crossing into Pakistani waters Detention of Gujarat fishermen and their boats by Pakistan may soon become a thing of the past. The state government is all set to roll out a cutting edge security edifice that will not only prevent vessels from crossing into Pakistani waters, but also identify each and every fisherman on the sea.
To be jointly implemented by the State Fisheries department and the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB), the Rs 153-crore vessel tracking and warning system, coupled with the biometric identification of fishermen, is expected to solve the issue of cross-border fishing and repeated detention of men and property between India and Pakistan.
Many times, owing to the lack of awareness about the International Boundary Line (IBL), but more often lured by the relatively cleaner and unexplored waters of the Indus estuarine region, Indian fishermen often sneak into Pakistani waters for their catch. Apart from creating problems for the security agencies, the regular occurrence has turned into a standing diplomatic issue between the two neighbours.
“Apart from preventing our fishermen from straying into Pakistani waters, the system will also serve the purpose of tracking of national and foreign traffic by identification of Indian nationals. It will also aid rescue at the time of distress by faster communication of the exact location,” said Gujarat Ports Secretary H K Dash.
The hi-tech system will work on a combination of Global Positioning System (GPS) and Geographic Information System (GIS) creating a geo-fence – a kind of virtual fencing along the IBL between India and Pakistan.
A data centre on the shore will monitor and control the vessels using a two-way secured, non-hackable radio communication. Each boat will have an embedded digital contraption that will get activated and alarm the fishermen the moment it crosses the border.
The two-way communication will also help the vessel get back to the control tower through an SOS in case of any emergency such as capsizing or enemy attack. The control tower will then inform the nearest ship and coast guard to take necessary action.
Officials here inform that the first phase will be implemented shortly with the government having provided Rs 40 crore through the GMB and Rs 28 crore through the Fisheries department for the project. “The fishermen will need to swipe their biometric cards before leaving the shore and swipe it again on return, with the control room registering the data. So, in case of a natural disaster or accident, we would know who all are in the sea,” said Fisheries Secretary Arun Sutaria.
An earlier experiment by the government on installing the GPS devices in fishing boats failed miserably, making officials keep their fingers crossed till the final roll out. “Earlier, efforts were piecemeal and did not yield results. As 50 per cent of the costs were to be borne by the fishermen themselves, there was certain reluctance to be a part of the system. That is why we have worked on this comprehensive package that would be mandatory and free for the fishermen,” said Deputy Commissioner of Fisheries B K Raizada.
More worryingly from the security point of view, officials say they have even come across instances when the same boats that landed in Pakistani custody have been found to be plying in Indian waters without proper return, fuelling suspicion that they could be used for anti-national activities.
Interestingly, Pakistan has not returned any fishing boat back to India after 2005. The latest figures show 508 fishermen with 369 boats still in the custody of the neighbouring country. The state has close to 30,000 registered big and small fishing vessels.