Page last updated at 15:58 GMT, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 16:58 UK

India tracks stray fishing boats

By Sunil Raman
BBC News, Delhi

Released Indian fishermen
India and Pakistan have began releasing captured fishermen

The Indian Coast Guard says it will install tracking devices in fishing boats to stop them inadvertently straying into Pakistani waters.

It says that the devices will be installed in larger vessels operating near the western state of Gujarat.

They work by issuing alerts on boats which drift across the maritime border.

With no physical boundary to divide the Arabian sea between India and Pakistan, boats often stray into each other's waters and the fishermen are arrested.

India says that about 350 of its fishermen are still languishing in Pakistani jails.

Fire alerts

"Many a time we get calls from a coastal village saying their fishermen have not returned from the seas for three days. They have no understanding of longitudes and latitudes and it can get difficult to track them," says Rajendra Singh, chief of the Coast Guard's western region.

Fishermen picked up in the Arabian Sea are usually jailed by Pakistan's Maritime Security Agency. But an improvement in relations between India and Pakistan has helped matters somewhat.

In 2006, Pakistan released more than 400 Indian fishermen from its jails.

In response India released 130 Pakistan fishermen.

Pakistan's maritime security agency says that it is now telling the Indian Coast Guard when there are straying boats it needs to escort back to Indian waters.

Mr Singh said that the tracking device is being sold by the Indian Space Research Organisation to the Coast Guard for $250 a piece. It enables fishing boats to communicate immediately with the operations room of the Coast Guard's Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre.

The tracker has the ability to send out alerts for fires on board, a sinking vessel, a medical emergency and when the boat is apprehended by another country.

As boats fish in groups, all that is needed is for an emergency radio beacon to be fitted on one boat for several to be tracked.

Such devices were installed on mechanised fishing boats operating near northern Sri Lanka in January. Hundreds of Indian fishermen operating in these waters have also been arrested over the years.

The Gujarat government will be asked if it can subsidise the device for poorer fishermen.

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