Four Indian fishermen arrested by Qatar’s coast guard last month have been convicted by a Doha court of three misdemeanors and fined QR20,000 each.
L. Jerald, 38; R. Thirumurugan, 27; P. Vaseegan, 33; and the 38-year-old boat’s captain R. Seelan were each convicted of entering Qatar’s waters without a permit, fishing in Qatar’s sea without a permit and entering the country unlawfully.
The men were working for a Saudi sponsor when their boat was boarded by Qatar authorities shortly after 1am on Jan. 7.
After spending five nights in jail, they signed a document written in Arabic that they believe was an admission that they had strayed into Qatar’s territorial waters.
The convicted men could not be reached for comment following Wednesday’s hearing.
However, the head of an India-based NGO that advocates on behalf of migrant fishermen told Doha News that it would be “very difficult” for the men – who said they make between QR200 and QR500 a week, depending on their catch – to raise the money.
Justin Antony, the founder and president of the International Fishermen Development Trust, said it’s typically up to the sponsor to pay court-imposed fines when their employees illegally cross into another country’s territorial waters.
Their Saudi sponsor was present for Wednesday’s hearing, but declined to speak to Doha News outside court.
It’s not clear if he will pay the fine or appeal the verdict, which would likely extend the fishermen’s unplanned stay in Qatar.
Dozens arrested since 2012
The men have been confined to their boat in an Al Ruwais harbor since being released from jail last month.
They spoke to Doha News in January, providing insight into an industry that employs thousands of low-income expats in Qatar.
Migrant fishermen are generally not covered by the labor laws of Gulf countries, which leaves them without job security or a regular salary.
This means they depend on the quantity and quality of their catch to support themselves and their families back home, as well as pay off the debts they incurred to obtain a job in the Gulf.
Because they work in a region where fish stocks are declining, expat fishermen are driven to stray beyond the country boundaries, according to a member of the Qatari Coast Guard stationed at Al Ruwais:
“The issue is that most of these men work under commission, but there is less fish on their side of the waters, so they sneak in here to harvest some of the abundance of fish. That’s not just trespassing, it’s stealing,” the officer told Doha News last month.
At least three dozen migrant Indian fishermen have been arrested by Qatar’s Coast Guard since 2012. Additionally, at least one person has died during patrols of the country’s maritime boundaries.
Similarly, dozens of expat fishermen working in Qatar have also been arrested and held in neighboring countries, including Iran.