Egyptian fishermen have stirred trouble on African coasts for the second time this week, in Tunisia this time after they illegally entered Tunisian waters.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ten Egyptian fishing boats entered Tunisian regional waters on Monday and one of them, called “Kareem and Abdallah” was held by Tunisian authorities after being shot at. Two of the 16 fishermen on board died and two were injured.
Investigations are underway with the captain of the ship who is charged by Tunisian authorities with illegally entering regional waters and attempting to damage the military vessel that intercepted him.
The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that it has issued several warnings to Egyptian fishermen telling them not to violate regional waters of neighbouring countries.
Kamal Hassan, fisherman and head of the independent Fishing Workers’ Union in Kafr Al-Sheikh explained why a fisherman from Egypt would go as far as Tunisia to look for fish. “We are in a dilemma caused by the fact that the number of boats is increasing while there is a shortage in fisheries. Meanwhile, the authorities are not giving us any attention,” he said.
“When a fisherman goes on a journey like this, he knows that he could die any minute but he does it anyway so that his children don’t starve to death,” he added. The fishermen, he explained, violate regional waters of neighbouring countries knowingly but they have to do it. “There’s fish in Libya and the trip is profitable for them but if they stay here in Egypt, they can’t cover the costs of fishing which include the cost of ice and fuel needed for the ships to run.”
Hassan feels that fishermen are marginalised, viewed as historic relics and not enough care is provided to them.
Hassan explained that fishermen don’t only go to Tunisia but they go to many other countries in the Mediterranean. Those who are closer to the “Eastern coast go to Cyprus, Greece, Turkey and Israel while those on the Western side got to Tunisia, Malta and Libya.”
Kamal explained that in Arab countries, the fishermen who are held are mistreated. “In Libya, they are humiliated and many Arab countries sink their boats. But western countries like Italy treat the fishermen with sympathy.”
Earlier this week, 58 fishermen held in Libya for violating its regional waters were released after having paid a fine. They were going to face trial in a military court in Libya but intervention by Egyptian diplomats in Libya prevented that.
Human rights lawyer Mohamed Zare’, head of the of the Arab Organisation for Penal Reform, explained that how a matter like this is dealt with largely depends on the relationship between the two nations. “If they are on good terms, the people who enter illegally may be held and questioned to make sure the information they provided is correct and if it is, they are returned to their countries.
“In other cases, the issue may be taken to a military trial and in that case, it may take longer than it should to be resolved,” he added.