Vadodara, Oct 12: An eight-member official delegation from Gujarat today left for Pakistan to initiate dialogue in order to secure release of 377 Indian fishermen and 369 fishing trawlers from the custody of the Pakistan Marine Security Agency.
The delegation, led by state fisheries department superintendent K M Chaudhury, took a Sri Lankan airlines aircraft for the port city of Karachi from Mumbai this morning.
Mr Chaudhury said two senior officials of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad were to join the delegation in the talks with the Pak authorities.
This is the first ever official delegation to visit Pakistan on an invitation from the authorities there to discuss the issue of detained Indian fishermen and their boats seized by the Pakistani marines for illegally entering their territorial waters for fishing.
Mr Chaudhury said the delegation, comprising some leaders of fishermen's organisations in Porbandar, Mangrol, Amreli and Veraval, was also scheduled to meet the Indian fishermen lodged in different Pakistan jails and assess the condition of the 369 seized trawlers worth Rs 56 crore, reportedly lying in Karachi port.
Stating that not a single Indian boat costing about Rs 15 lakh each had been released by Pakistani authorities since October, 2003, Mr Chaudhury thanked the new Pakistani government for taking a positive step in this direction for the fist time. On their return, the delegation, which has been given 15 days visa, would submit a report to the state government on the condition of the seized trawlers and suggest steps to be taken to bring them back to India via sea route.
Sources said most of the fishermen belonging to Gujarat were languishing in different jails of Pakistan for the last one-and-a-half years after Pakistani marines caught them fishing in their territorial waters off the Jakhau coast.
Earlier, Pakistan authorities used to repatriate the Indian fishermen along with their boats after keeping them under detention for a period ranging between one and two years. But since January, 2005 the detainees were being sent back home in batches through the Wagah border without their boats.