x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Iran frees Emiratis and Asian crew after two months

They were aboard three boats seized by the Iranian coastguard after sailing into waters off Kish island on May 12.

Five Emirati fishing boat captains and 21 Asian crew are back in the UAE after being held in custody by Iran for two months. Hossam El-Baz / Al Ittihad
Five Emirati fishing boat captains and 21 Asian crew are back in the UAE after being held in custody by Iran for two months. Hossam El-Baz / Al Ittihad

UMM AL QUWAIN // Five Emirati fishing boat captains and 21 Asian crew are back in the UAE after being held in custody by Iran for two months.

They were aboard three boats seized by the Iranian coastguard after sailing into waters off Kish island on May 12.

The men were released on Wednesday after the Emirati owners of two of the boats agreed to pay fines totalling Dh55,000.

"My captain and the fishermen are very special to me and that is why when I was asked to pay the fine by the Iranian authorities, I paid it immediately to win their freedom," said owner Jomaa bin Khalfun, who paid Dh25,000.

Mr bin Khalfun was shocked when his captain called him late at night to say a coastguard vessel had stopped the boat, which is registered in UAQ, and told the crew to follow them to shore.

"Since then I have been following up with relevant authorities in the UAE to have them released," he said. The 26 men were held on Kish island.

Humaid Al Ghubi, whose boat is registered in Ajman, said his crew had entered Iranian waters when they were stopped by the authorities.

"It is because of the hot summer that there are no fish in most waters and fishermen go deeper into the sea where they hope fish have escaped the scorching heat," said Mr Al Ghubi, who paid Dh30,000.

"In the end, they went into another country's territorial waters."

The other three Emirati captains and 11 Asian sailors were in a third boat, registered in Ajman, but it is not known how much its owner was fined.

Mr Al Ghubi said he had lost a lot of money over the past two months while his boat has been out of commission and was keen to get his vessel and crew back to work as soon as possible.

Hussein Al Hajri, chairman of the UAQ Fishermen's Association, said fishing at this time of year was difficult and crews were often forced to go further out to make a catch, although many preferred to take a break during summer.

"There is a scarcity of fish in the sea so more than half of fishermen choose to take some break in Ramadan, especially this year when it's very hot," Mr Al Hajri said.

Saif Saeed, one of the few Emirati fisherman who work at sea even while fasting, said it was painful to make the sacrifice of going out in the heat and bringing back such small catches.

"Even for these few catches one had to go deeper into the sea to find them, and as you return you feel it's not worth a sacrifice for another day," Mr Saeed said.

Markets in the Northern Emirates are reporting low fish stocks and high prices, with safi, a popular dish for iftar, costing Dh300, up from the usual Dh120.

The cost of other species has also increased, with baiyah being sold at Dh120, up from Dh80, and sherry fish costing Dh120 instead of Dh70.

ykakande@thenational.ae