Hundreds of Indian fishermen trapped in Iran for months, may be coming home soon

They had sent many SOS videos begging the Indian government to rescue them in March. An Indian Navy ship is likely to bring them back by July 1

Indian Fisherman

If all goes according to plan an Indian naval ship will soon bring back hundreds of stranded fishermen from Iran, as a part of its repatriation mission. The fishermen had sent multiple ‘SOS video clips’ in late March, when they were suddenly stranded due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and suspension of all travel and transport globally. By then, India too had been put under a national lockdown and the hardships, especially for migrant workers including fishworkers and their families, begame grim. The families of these nearly 800 stranded fishermen, who had seen their distress video clips, had also appealed to the authorities to help rescue the men. It has taken nearly three months, but it now seems that their prayers have been finally heard.

According to sources, the Indian navy ship INS Jalashwa is soon leaving the shores of Iran with around 700 indian fishermen on board. They are likely to reach Tuticorin on July 1. Officials at the Tamil Nadu government are said to have confirmed this to the Ministry of External affairs. Sources say that the Indian Ambassador to Iran had confirmed the “necessary approvals had been received” and  had recommended that the Indian Navy’s ship reach Bandar Abbar on June 21, and leave with the fisherman on board on June 22.

The dates have been postponed for unknown reasons, say sources. Now it seems the first ship will leave on June 25 and reach Tamil Nadu on July 1. “We know that there are around  350 fishermen from Tamil Nadu and another 350 are from other states,” said a community leader who wished to remain anonymous at the moment.

Another 100 fishermen are expected to come in a second ship that will leave a few days later. According to the sources in Tamil Nadu fishing communities the families of the fishermen already know of the repatriation plan but are not celebrating yet. They want to see their husbands, sons and brothers with their own eyes first, said a community leader. The fishworkers will have to undergo mandatory screening and mandatory quarantine in accordance with the Covid-19 protocol. According to the community leader the men were eventually helped with food and water after the Indian authorities requested their Iran counterparts to help the fish workers. “We will only know their exact health conditions once they come back home,” said the community leader.

Sabrang had reported the fishermen’s plight as soon as the distress videos were confirmed and shared by the community.  “We have no water, we are boiling sea water to drink, we have no food, we are going to die,” the young man had appealed for help in Tamil. They had said they also did not have medication for emergencies. The only people who seemed to have heard the fishermen’s pleas then, were their families who too had begun to fear the worse for their boys and recorded video appeals for help. 

“I sent my son to Iran around nine months ago. He went there to earn a living, so he could marry his sisters off. Only now we learnt about the coronavirus situation in Iran. Our boys hope that helicopters rescue them,” said  Vijayalakshmi, in her video message from Samba Thottam in Tamil Nadu.

According to Dr Kumarvelu, vice chairperson of the National Fishworkers Forum (NFF), the priority now is that all the fishermen are brought back home safe from Iran. The fishing community, farmers of the sea, are one of the most vulnerable. When out at sea they are vulnerable to natural disasters such as cyclones, or are caught in the crossfires of Naval forces, when on land they do not have much financial, or health security either.

In March they had sent over 20 SOS videos when they were stranded and had no way to return home to India. Dr Kumarvelu had then said the Indian government must remember that the fishermen were Indian citizens. “Indian government must think of its citizens as its own children, and do all it takes to bring our boys back home. The state government must also apply the required pressure on the Union government to ensure this happens.” The NFF has reached out to many MPs, and MLAs to help take up this issue with the authorities.

In fact, March onwards the Government of India had in fact brought back hundreds of Indians from the Iranian cities of Tehran and Shiraz. They were all back in India by March 16 and were quarantined in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, according to news reports.


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