Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1262, (10 - 16 September 2015)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1262, (10 - 16 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Fishermen lost off Libya

The fate of dozens of fishermen lost off the Libyan coast is still unknown as investigations continue, reports Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

Videos of a crying mother wanting to know the fate of her son and of a wife with three or four children asking officials to find her husband have been circulating on social media after 26 Egyptian fishermen from Kafr Al-Sheikh north of Cairo were lost off the Libyan coast.

That is not the first time that such stories have been seen on social media, and it will not be the last unless the reasons that made these fishermen risk their lives in a dangerous country like Libya are not dealt with.

Contacts between Osama Abdel-Wahed, the governor of Kafr Al-Sheikh, the Foreign Ministry and head of the fishermen in the governorate Ahmed Abdu Nassar have been continuing this week to discover the fate of the fishermen lost off Libya after their boat sank last week.

Abdel-Wahed said the contacts would not stop until the fishermen were found and returned safely to their villages, though he noted that they had not listened to warnings about sailing into Libyan waters. All the fishermen are from one village in Kafr Al-Sheikh.

There were 30 fishermen on the boat which went down due to bad weather, according to Nassar. Four were saved, while the fate of the other 26 is unknown. The four saved fishermen are being detained in Libya.

Egyptian fishermen have disobeyed repeated warning from officials and the Foreign Ministry not to fish in international waters.

They have been repeatedly detained in Libya or Tunisia, or, if fishing in the Red Sea, in Sudan or Yemen.

In January, the Foreign Ministry facilitated the return of 300 fishermen from Misrata 200 km east of the Libyan capital Tripoli, which is a major sea port and free-trade zone.

All the 300 were also from Kafr Al-Sheikh, and the Foreign Ministry coordinated with the internationally recognised Libyan government in Tobruk in order to determine their whereabouts.

Last month, 15 fishermen arrived from Tunisia after being released from detention for breaching Tunisian territorial waters. The fishermen were detained in July near Sfax in southeast Tunisia.

Also last month, Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir ordered the release of 101 Egyptian fishermen who had been detained in Port Sudan since April for trespassing in Sudanese waters. Last week another group of Egyptian fishermen was arrested in Sudan for allegedly trespassing in its waters.

The difficult situation in Libya makes the detention of Egyptian workers or fishermen more serious than usual, however. Violence has surged in Libya since the overthrow of former leader Muammar Gaddafi, killed in October 2011 by revolutionary fighters.

The situation has further deteriorated due to the absence of a central government in control of the country. While the UN has recognised the Libyan government in the eastern city of Tobruk, an Islamist-dominated assembly has clung onto power in Tripoli despite losing an election.

The Islamist militia groups in the country that had fought together to oust Gaddafi are now fighting each other. They have been blamed for attacks that have killed dozens of members of the security forces and foreigners in Benghazi, the cradle of the 2011 Revolution.

Militias in Libya have kidnapped several Egyptian citizens, some of whom have been brutally killed, including a doctor, his wife, and his daughter earlier this year.

Even the video showing 21 Egyptian Copts being beheaded by Islamic State (IS) forces in Libya in February did not stop Egyptian workers in general and fishermen in particular from going to the country.

The question is why Egyptian workers who have seen others suffer or be detained or killed in Libya are still willing to expose themselves to the same fate. “Had they found a decent life in their own country, they would not have left it for anywhere else, let alone a dangerous place,” Nassar said.

The families of the workers who have been lost, detained or killed abroad have repeatedly complained about the difficult conditions for workers in Egypt. As a result, they have been forced to leave for the sake of jobs or a better income, or take the risk of travelling long distances in insecure ships in search of better fishing areas.

“My son has four kids. He needed money to help bring them up. That is why he took the risk of travelling far away on a fishing trip in pursuit of a better income for his kids. The alternative is to live in poverty,” said Mustafa, the father of one of the lost fishermen.

Despite the ongoing violence and danger and the difficulty of crossing the border, some Egyptians are still willing to go to Libya because it is a place where they can make good money.

An estimated 200,000 Egyptian workers currently reside in Libya, a sharp decline from the two million that reportedly used to work there before the 2011 Revolution.

But as the situation grows more complex in the country and with no single party to contact to inquire about the fate of the 26 fishermen or other Egyptians lost there,  the fate of the fishermen and the thousands of other Egyptian workers still trapped inside Libya grows more and more uncertain.

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