In the wake of pirate attacks on fishermen and river police, the government is going to modernise the river police providing them with sophisticated arms and other logistics support.
As part of the move, the home ministry has decided to buy 50 speedboats, 100 water bikes and 600 walkie-talkies for the river police, police headquarters sources said.
Against the demand from the river police, the home ministry has decided to buy these modern weapons and equipment.
The river policemen are frequently attacked by pirates on different river routes and coastal belt.
Due to lack of adequate number of modern water vessels, sophisticated arms and other equipment, the river police cannot face pirates properly.
Fishermen catch fish in the rivers near the Sundarbans all year round. Thousands of fishermen and poor villagers have become victims of pirate attacks in the region over the years.
The river police and fishermen alleged that armed wielding pirates are still a main scare for fishermen and river police in and around the Sundarbans.
According to the fishermen and law enforcers, more than 300 pirates under the cover of some godfathers unleashed a reign of terror in the coastal region through kidnapping the innocent and poor fishermen for ransom and hijacking fishing trawlers.
Fish worth crores of taka are caught in these coastal region every day.
“Life and property, including fishing trawlers and fish of over 12,00,000 fishermen, are virtually held hostage in the hands of these armed goons.By paying toll to these armed bandits, the poor fishermen are to go for fishing on river,” Bayali and Mayali, two local fishermen in the Sundarbans, alleged.
Their audacity has already spread from the deep Sundarbans to the Bay of Bengal.
The RAB and Coast guards continued massive operations to catch these armed bandits.
In the face of the massive raids by law enforcers, including the RAB, many of such armed bandits have surrendered to law enforcers, a RAB official said.
More than 50 suspected pirates were killed in separate gunfights with RAB during the last two years in the region, a RAB commanding officer said.
At the same time, the striking teams also recovered 126 firearms from the bandits.
Recently, a gang of 10-12 river pirates beat up 20 fishermen, stole their catch and held them for ransom on Dhanshiddhir Char, a small island in Bagerhat district in the Sundarbans Mangrove Forest.
The pirates demanded a ransom of Tk 1 lakh for the release of each man.
“River piracy is a serious problem that impacts coastal communities. The pirates often attack and kidnap fishermen and villagers who enter the forest to fish and collect honey and firewood,” local fishermen said.
“Over the years, hundreds of people have been abducted by pirates and many remained missing for years.
During the fishing season, from September to March, pirates demand Tk 20,000-25,000 from each fishing trawler to work in the area, according to fishermen.
Lieutenant Fariduzzaman Khan, staff officer at the West Zone of Bangladesh Coast Guard, admits that dealing with the pirates is a struggle.
“Various sources confirmed that 20 fishermen have been abducted, but we have not been able to trace or rescue them until now. We are making our best efforts to help them along with the naval police and the anti-terror force,” Khan said.
“The Sundarbans is a vast area and pirates can hide themselves deep inside the forest to evade our patrols. Moreover, family members hardly cooperate with us, presumably fearing retaliation,” he added.
Recently, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said the government is determined to keep the country’s river ways safe from clutches of river pirates.
Besides, 19 more outposts with 700 men will also be added to this law enforcement unit, sources said.
There are 42 river police outposts, dividing into six regions, on different river and coastal belts under 23 districts across the country.
Headed by a DIG of police, a unit of Bangladesh police comprising 747 policemen started working as a separate river police unit on November 13, 2013.
River Police chief Maruf Hasan said after committing a crime the armed river pirates flee the scene using their speedboats. But the on-duty river policemen cannot face them with their old engine boats. Not only that, river pirates and fishermen often attack the river police. There are lack of adequate modern arms, water vessels and other equipment in this sector, he added.
In such a situation, the government has responded with assurance to give some modern arms and logistics supports for this neglected sector, the DIG added.