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Untapped Somalia zone beckons Indians

Indian Ocean, a battleground between the fishermen of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka over the rights to fish in region marked as International Maritime Boundary Line has  the solution to the decades old political problem.  The ‘unexplored’ sea shores of Somalia and Yemen could be the solution India and Sri Lanka are waiting for, according to marine specialists and diplomats.

Prof A Ramachandran, vice chancellor, Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (KUFOS) and an internationally respected industrial marine specialist says that the coastlines of Somalia and Yemen remain underutilised.

“Because of the lack of interest among Somalian fishermen to take the initiative to venture out to the exclusive economic zone of this country, what is happening is that the region is experiencing large scale poaching in the form of unauthorised fishing. Fisheries resources in Somalia remain untapped due to a host of reasons,” Prof Ramachandran told The Pioneer.

He also pointed out that coastlines of Somalia and Yemen and virgin areas. “Fish is not very much relished in these  countries,” said Prof Ramachandran.

Since these countries were not very much into fishing, the untapped marine wealth in the form of fish products could be harnessed by entrepreneurs from India. ‘Our fishermen, especially those from Tamil Nadu and Kerala, are skilled in fishing in these regions. The area offers immense potential for our fishermen,” he said.

What makes the Somalian and Yemen coast unique is the presence of large stock of tuna, lobster, sardine , mackerel, cuttle fish and several other species which enjoy big demand in global market, said the vice -chancellor.

Since both Somalia and Yemen are not fully equipped  for deep sea fishing and do not have modern infrastructure for storing and processing the catch, there is a big potential for Indian entrepreneurs as well as fishermen, pointed out Prof Ramachandran and Dr Nomvuyo Nokwe, secretary general, Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), an inter-governmental organisation engaged in strengthening regional cooperation and sustainable development within the Indian Ocean region through its 22 member States and nine dialogue partners.

Dr Nokwe, a medical doctor-turned-career diplomat said  there  was big scope for a win-win situation for all the stake holders viz India, Yemen, Somalia the entrepreneurs and the fishermen if such a cooperation materialises. “We in IORA are willing to play a major role in facilitating such a cooperation between these three countries to develop such an international venture. Indian entrepreneurs  have the technology while the fishermen are skilled. This would go a long way in the economic development  of all stake holders,” said Dr Nokwe.

Jaya Palayan, founder, South Indian Fishermen Federation, said the suggestion sounded fine. “But we need to ensure the safety of our fishermen from the marauding pirates of Somalia, who made that country an infamous entity because of hijacking of ships and other marine vessels,” said Palayan, a marine engineer turned fishermen activist.

A representative from  the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FICCI), an industry body involved in the Blue Economy also expressed his apprehension over the threats posed by the Somalian pirates.

“If we could resolve the issue, there is a possibility of peace returning to the Palk Straits between India and Sri Lanka where the Tamil Nadu fishermen are always accused of poaching from the island nation’s territory,” said the FICCI spokesman.      

Somalia and Yemen are calling but the question is whether Indian policy makers are willing to respond and react to the challenge.

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