Escaping harsh working conditions in Iran, Indian fishermen sail through international waters to make it back home: Report

The six fishermen reached the Indian coast after having sailed for two weeks through the waters of Qatar, the Strait of Hormuz and Oman.
Last Updated : 26 May 2024, 11:05 IST
Last Updated : 26 May 2024, 11:05 IST

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A feature published in The Indian Express on Sunday narrates the story of six Indian fishermen who escaped harsh working conditions in Iran - despite having their passports confiscated by their employer - to reach the Indian coast after having sailed for two weeks through the waters of Qatar, the Strait of Hormuz and Oman.

Nithya Dayalan (31), cousin Kalidas Kumar (22), and Maria Dennis (37), all fishermen from Tamil Nadu, set off for Iran in January of last year. Arun Dayalan (29), Muneeswaran (37) and Rajendran (38) joined them around September. Their reason for going? Harsh working conditions in India.

In Iran, they were taken to Bandar-e Chiruiyeh, where their employer was Syed Jaffareh, an Arab. They soon realised that they were trapped.

“Our routine was backbreaking – 10 days at sea, followed by 10 on land. We barely got two hours of sleep a day while at sea,” Nithya Dayalan told the publication, adding that while they were promised Rs 30,000-40,000 a month, they barely made Rs 10,000 most months.

“Gradually, even that stopped. Our employer denied us food when we said we would not go to sea without being paid. But the employer had taken away our passports and there was little we could do," he said.

On April 22, they decided to undertake what would turn out to be an uncertain two weeks of sailing.

“When we entered Qatar’s (maritime) border, we were confronted by their coast guards. We pleaded with them to arrest us and take us to the Indian embassy. But they said we would be kept in prison for six months for entering their waters before being taken to the embassy. They advised us to go back to our employer or go to the Indian embassy in Iran. The Indian embassy is about 600 km from where we lived. We didn’t have money to travel that far. Besides, we had no passports,” Dayalan told the publication.

They returned to Iranian waters, deciding to sail through the Strait of Hormuz this time.

"We sailed towards the Oman border. We took turns to be at the steering wheel. There would be two of us at the wheel for at least 3-4 hours, after which somebody else would take over. We kept our eye on the GPS to know where we were, if we were crossing international (maritime) boundaries. One of us would monitor the engine and stay alert for leaks, while the others caught up on sleep,” Dayalan was quoted as saying.

In Omani waters, they were intercepted by a US Coast Guard ship. While the American officers did not heed the Indians' request to be arrested and taken to the Indian embassy, Uncle Sam's officers did escort them and "gifted" them sunglasses, medicine kits, snacks and drinking water. “They also gave us a card with the Oman Coast Guard number on it and told us to use it if we were stopped in Oman waters again,” Dayalan told the publication.

Five days later, the fishermen were finally in Indian waters. An Indian Coast Guard ship intercepted them and took them to the Kochi harbour, letting them go before confiscating their phones and the Iranian ship they were sailing in.

Back at the Thiruppalaikudi fishing hamlet in Tamil Nadu's Ramanathapuram, Dayalan sure has a story to tell.

Published 26 May 2024, 11:05 IST

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