| Ten-year-old Bhagvan hugs his father at Okha port after arriving from Karachi on Sunday. (Reuters)
Ahmedabad, Sept. 7: A search is on to locate two boats carrying 13 Indian fishermen, released along with 256 others from Pakistan jails on Friday, who have not reached Okha port till today.
Dhanprasad and Subhash Sagar, the two missing boats suspected to have developed engine problems, were among the 30 released by Pakistan authorities on Friday. The other 28 reached Saurashtra this morning after a 65-hour journey.
The 256, including two 10-year-old boys, arrived at Okha in Gujarat, coast guard commandant Kajol Roy said.
The missing boats are yet to cross the international border and are feared to have drifted in the strong water current.
According to PTI, sub-inspector at Okha police station .V. Patel said: “Indian coast guards are searching for the boats while Indian Air Force planes are doing aerial reconnaissance. A Pakistani aircraft, too, is engaged for the same purpose.” A coast guard helicopter from Diu has already made several sorties.
The state fisheries department has urged the Indian High Commission in Pakistan to press the authorities concerned there to help. According to the news agency, deputy director of fisheries H.B. Dave said the state had approached mission official R.K. Sharma in Karachi.
The fishermen who reached safe shores told the coast guards that they last communicated with their missing colleagues when they were 8 nautical miles behind them.
The coast guard has told the Border Security Force that the missing boats might have strayed into Koteshwar creek. All small ports in north Gujarat have been alerted to keep an eye out for the boats.
Pakistan marine officials had arrested all the fishermen over a year ago after their vessels strayed into the country’s territorial waters. Most of the fishermen, who are from the coastal villages in Veral, Magrol Porbandar, Okha and Diu, spent six months to two years in Pakistan jails.
According to Roy, many complained of ill treatment such as lack of proper food and clothes. Fifty fishermen were said to have been lodged in one room.
The fishermen’s delayed arrival was attributed to Pakistani authorities’ neglect of the boats’ maintenance as they were unwilling to return these.
Pressure from a delegation of the Indian Fishermen’s Association and support from its Pakistan counterpart helped get the boats back, Roy said.
He added that 74 more fishermen still languishing in Pakistan jails would be released after they completed their “punishment period”.