Mumbai - A top Indian maritime authority has called upon all foreign vessels plying close to the Indian coast to exercise "extreme caution" before responding to any situation, an official said here Tuesday.
In a notification March 7, the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) has said that in recent times, international shipping traffic has been moving close to the western Indian coast with merchant ships preferring the safe passage against the straight course in the Arabian Sea to avoid the menace of pirates on the high seas.
Many a times, these ships unknowingly transgress or damage the thousands of fishing nets which are laid upto 50 nautical miles off the Indian coastline.
"There are over 300,000 fishing boats operating off the Indian coast. When they notice a merchant vessel transgressing over fishing nets or gear, they raise an alarm and sail towards them to draw their attention and prevent damage to the nets or gear," said Deputy DGS (Technical), Capt. Harish Khatri in the advisory.
Unfortunately, these fishermen and their boats are mistaken for pirate skiffs which leads to unfortunate incidents with the innocent fisher folk, Khatri pointed out.
Recently, Italian merchant ship Enrica Lexie fired at and killed two fishermen off Kerala's Alappuzha. "The ships security guards had assumed the fishermen to be pirates," Khatri added.
In another case, warning shots were fired at Indian fishermen off the Sri Lanka coast after a merchant ship collided with a fishing boat, leading to three deaths.
These incidents are a direct outcome of the merchant ships transgressing very close to the Indian coast to avoid the High Risk Area (HRA), which starts 12 nautical miles from the coast, and plying closer to avoid pirate attacks.
In turn, this results in merchant ships having close encounters with fishermen with adverse consequences for both, the DyDGS pointed out.
Khatri advised that all merchant vessels plying upto 50 nautical miles must take note of the dense fishing traffic on the India's west coast and exercise extreme caution in these waters, not mistake fishing boats to be pirate vessels, and report any suspicious sightings to the Indian defence and maritime authorities.
Khatri pointed out that the Indian Navy, the Indian Coast Guard and other agencies have completely prevented any piracy incidents from taking place in the EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone), or within 200 nautical miles of the Indian coast, since June 2011.