Tens of thousands of Bangladeshi fishermen, mostly in the country’s southern coastal areas, are risking their lives for deep sea fishing in uninsured wooden boats in order to earn a living. Unfortunately, about 500 fishermen have died in the last decade without life insurance, leaving their families in perilous economic situations. Shafia Begum is one of them, having lost her son, Mohammad Ibrahim, who was the lone breadwinner in the Barguna district on the bank of the Khakdon River.
“My son’s fishing boat went down in the Bay of Bengal more than a month ago. Five of the 11 crew members were rescued by nearby boats. However, my son and others remain missing. I know my son is no longer alive,” Begum told Anadolu Agency, tears streaming down her cheeks. The bereaved mother was inconsolably crying as she spoke on the eve of World Maritime Day, which is being observed worldwide on Thursday under the theme “New technologies for greener shipping.”
It was even tougher for her to speak as she was almost sober for her lost son, the family’s sole breadwinner. Standing in front of her small tent on the bank of a small canal known locally as Khal, Begum said no one has come to them for help since the incident.
“I have a school-age grandson and a daughter-in-law. I don’t know how I’m going to live with them,” the grief-stricken mother added. Hundreds of such families, like Begum, live in subhuman conditions after losing their earning members in the country’s southern coastal areas.
500 fishermen died in a decade
According to local fishermen and union leaders, hundreds of fishermen have drowned in the Bay of Bengal due to bad weather, with only a few bodies recovered. Golam Mostafa Chowdhury, president of the Barguna District Fishing Trawler Owners’ Association, told Anadolu Agency that at least 500 fishermen were lost in the Bay of Bengal after their fishing boats capsized in rough weather. “We have only recovered the bodies of 100 missing fishermen. There is no trace of the others, and we know there is no hope for their recovery,” Chowdhury noted.
Risky livelihood only option
Though there is no specific data on the total number of fishermen in the south Asian Muslim majority delta nation of 170 million people, Chowdhury said at least one million people are directly engaged in fishing, mostly in the Bay of Bengal, while nearly four million others rely on the fishing trade for a living. Due to climate change impacts, many agricultural lands in the country’s coastal areas have lost fertility after being affected by salty water. Fishing in the sea is the only source of livelihood for those who were farmers earlier, according to experts. “These people are bound to take risks as they have families and children, and they need to earn for survival,” Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, the executive director of a local NGO Coast Trust, told Anadolu Agency.
The fishermen also assert that they have no alternative but to take risks in order to make a living. “Our only concern is that whenever a fishing boat capsizes in the sea, the owner loses everything. The crew members’ families face a severe financial crisis and receive no assistance,” Mohammad Shahidul Islam, the head of a boat’s fishermen crew, told Anadolu Agency while repairing a fishing net on the boat deck on the Bishkhali River.
Life insurance is a must
Coastal residents believe that only a life insurance system for fishermen can improve the lives of destitute fishermen. “It is very unfortunate that the people who take the most dangerous jobs and contribute to the country’s economy are left with nothing after their untimely deaths,” Chowdhury remarked. He alleged that insurance companies do not allow any fishing boats, owners, or fishermen to be covered under the life insurance scheme, claiming that wood-made boats do not have warranties. “On the other hand, the government does not consider the missing fishermen to be dead, even after they have been missing for years in the vast sea. Even, the government does not provide financial assistance to the victims’ families,” he said.
Fishermen in coastal areas have been looking for government initiatives for years in order to be covered by life insurance, and it appears impossible without government intervention. The destitute fishermen simply hope that their family members can find a way to survive in case of their tragic deaths in the womb of the ghostly sea.