x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Chased by Iran's navy, and pirates

A Federal National Council report cites a "weak role" of the Government in protecting fisherman from piracy and harassment.

Fisherman in Port Zayed, Abu Dhabi. Some have been harassed by the Iranian navy and pirates.
Fisherman in Port Zayed, Abu Dhabi. Some have been harassed by the Iranian navy and pirates.

ABU DHABI // Emirati fishing boats are being chased by the Iranian navy, and Iranian pirates are stealing their equipment, a recent report by the Federal National Council alleges. Fishermen in the northern emirates are believed to be suffering the most from such harassments. The FNC report, drafted over the summer by the Foreign Affairs, Planning, Petroleum, Mineral Wealth, Agriculture and Fishery Committee, criticised what it called the Government's "weak role" in protecting fishermen against "stealing and damaging of fishing equipment, chasing of fishermen by pirates in neighbouring countries and harassment by some security services in neighbouring countries".

Iran was the only nation cited as having obstructed the fishing in the Gulf. Fishermen were subject to chasing by Iranian naval forces, despite the fact that the fishermen were in UAE territorial waters, the report said. Obaid al Nuaimi, an FNC member from Ras al Khaimah, said the harassment was a constant issue for seamen. "It's a permanent problem," he said yesterday. "Anyone who goes in the regional waters out of the northern emirates is prone to chasing by the Iranians."

The territorial waters of a country stretch to 12 nautical miles from its coastline, but most of the fishing boats operate in international waters, which contain richer fish stocks. "The Iranians steal the fish and tow the boats to the Iranian coasts," said Mr al Nuaimi, who took part in the FNC's discussion of the fishing industry on Tuesday. He added that in many cases the fishermen were held by Iranian authorities.

Mr al Nuaimi said UAE fishermen had to compete with "random fishing" by big Iranian fishing boats close to Emirati oil rigs. The report said the coastguards of other countries had also been harassing fishermen in the Gulf of Oman despite the fishermen's assertion that they were within the UAE's territorial waters. Fishermen in the Gulf of Oman, the report said, complained that commercial ships and oil tankers destroyed the floating markers used to locate fishing nets, and said they had been attacked by pirates of neighbouring countries. The countries were not named.

Fishermen in Abu Dhabi, however, said yesterday they had not had any contact with the Iranian navy, and an official from the Abu Dhabi Fishermen Co-operative said that fishermen were to blame if their boats drifted into Iranian waters. "Every fisherman should respect their leadership and their country and not enter the waters of others," said Ali al Mansouri, the head of the co-operative. "There are no problems in Abu Dhabi because most of the fishermen abide by regulations."

Mr al Mansouri said that because of the meandering sea borders in the Gulf, some fishermen could enter foreign waters without realising it. But he said global positioning systems should enable them to pinpoint their whereabouts. mhabboush@thenational.ae