Return of the sea robbers
With their hands and legs tied, they were kept confined for three days straight. None of them got anything to eat, and when anyone would ask for water, only seawater was offered.
Md Helal (24), an angler who was abducted by sea robbers on November 20, disclosed the ordeal while talking with The Daily Star recently.
Helal and seven other anglers were captured while they went for fishing on the Bay of Bengal, 30 to 35 kilometres off the coast of Barguna.
The robbers first tied our hands and legs. They then started beating us with sticks and asked if we kept any money hidden inside the boat. Finally, they took away our fuel, groceries and the fish we had caught.
"They beat us badly on the legs, knees and back, just to collect ransom," he said.
"The robbers released us on November 22, after they got Tk 40,000," added Helal, who is still unable to walk properly due to the torture.
During a visit to Barguna's Patharghata upazila, this correspondent met around a dozen anglers who underwent such ordeals and returned from robbers' captivity.
Hasan Shikder, who has been a fisher for the last 14 years, said he was abducted by robbers around five times.
"The robbers first tied our hands and legs. They then started beating us with sticks and asked if we kept any money hidden inside the boat. Finally, they took away our fuel, groceries and the fish we had caught," Shikder said.
"Boat owners pay us only after they sell the fish we catch. If robbers take the fish away, we don't get any payment and our family suffers," he explained.
For the last two years, there was no disturbance from robbers, and yearly earnings of each fisher rose to around Tk 2.30 lakh to 2.50 lakh. When the robbers were more active, the earnings hardly crossed Tk 60,000 to 80,000, he said.
According to fishers and law enforcers, the robbers were mainly from Khulna region and used to hide inside the Sundarbans.
Due to continuous drives of Rapid Action Battalion (Rab), the robbers were forced to leave their hideouts, and around 328 robbers of 32 groups surrendered between 2016 and 2018. On November 1, 2018, the Sundarbans was declared robber-free.
Some of the robbers went into hiding, leaving behind their criminal activities, taking shelter at different places, including India, locals claimed.
But now, the absconding robbers have united again and have chosen to target fishers in the sea around the Barguna region, as law enforcers' vigilance increased in Sundarbans area, they added.
In the last few weeks, a fisher -- Md Musa -- was killed and dozens were tortured by robbers for ransom.
Md Nasir, an angler of Barguna, said around 15 days back, the robbers targeted their boat, but he somehow managed to escape by swiftly manoeuvering the boat.
"These robbers were mainly youngsters, and some of them were talking in Hindi. Even the boat, which they were using, was Indian, and it moved faster than ours," he claimed.
Many other anglers who saw the robbers also made similar claims.
Golam Mostofa Rasel, president of Patharghata Trawler Owner Association, requested for increased vigilance on robbers who have surrendered. He also requested Rab to increase patrol in the sea and set up camps.
Addressing the issue, Chowdhury Abdullah Al Mamun, director general of Rab, said they have freed Sundarbans from robbers. "The sea remains in our control, and we will also make it robber-free."
"We have plans to set up a temporary or permanent camp in the coast area," he said.
"We are ready to help, if anyone needs to return to normal life. But if robbers do not leave these criminal activities, stern action will be taken against them," he added.
Regarding robbers using Indian boats, DG Mamun said, "We are communicating with the neighboring country through Interpol round the clock."