Perennial poverty have lately forced hundreds of fishermen to sail their vessels into the Bay of Bengal for deep sea fishing, ignoring a government ban.
Of them, at least 26 went missing on Saturday as two fishing trawlers, one led by Monir Majhi of Char Madraj and another by Shajahan Majhi of Faridabad, sank in the Bay, said police in Bhola’s Char Fashion upazila.
Shamsul Arefin, officer-in-charge of Char Fashion Police Station, said seven bodies of the missing fishermen were recovered in Cox’s Bazar and two more were rescued alive on Wednesday.
Seventeen of the missing fishermen are yet to be traced, he said, adding police, Coastguard, Navy and local fishermen are searching for the fishermen who remained missing.
Monir Majhi was one of the two fishermen who survived the storm-ravaged sea and made it to the coast. He was rescued in a critical condition from Cox’s Bazar Sea Beach on Wednesday.
Monir said he was sailing his vessel with 14 other fishermen. “All my co-workers went missing as the vessel sank after being hit by rougue waves,” he added.
Another fisherman Jewel was rescued from the same place as Monir on the same day.
Quoting Jewel, his brother Masud Hossain said there were around 15 fishing trawlers where Jewel’s trawler brother was sailing.
“Almost all of those vessels capsized,” he added.
Many more fishing boats could be there if the government ban was not imposed on fishing, Masud opined.
Talking to several fishermen in Char Fashion upazila, this correspondent found a horrific picture of their life and why they ignored the ban.
Masud, a fisherman in Char Madraj, said, “We simply cannot lie down at our home and let our children starve. If we do not go out for fishing, our family members get nothing to eat.
“Fishing has been our source of income for generations and we do not have any other alternative.”
Asked about the government aid, he said it was not sufficient.
Taher Majhi, a fisherman in Dhal Char, said, “We get 40 kilogrammes of rice and nothing else. A family cannot run on rice only.”
At the same time, a good number of fishermen do not even get the aid, he added.
Most of the fishermen in the area buy fishing equipment on loan with high interest from different NGOs or multipurpose societies. They mostly repay the loan in June-July as this is the peak season for netting fish form the sea. This is one of the reasons why fishermen are ignoring the government ban and going into the sea, Mijan Majhi of Dhal Char said as several others echoed his statement.
“Firstly, we are facing natural disasters. On top of that, the government imposed a ban on fishing. This is nothing less than a curse for us,” said Abdul Jalil, a fisherman in Char Kukri Mukri.
Maruf Hossain Minar, upazila fisheries officer of Char Fashion, said there were 25,074 registered and around 30,000 unregistered fishermen in the upazila.
The unregistered fishermen, however, get no aid from the government, he added.