Abu Dhabi: Minish Bhai, 47, shifted his squinting gaze from the opaque blue skies to his young crewman and nodded smilingly. “Raise the anchor,” he said.
As the familiar roar of his diesel-powered trawler resonated through the dock at Port Zayed, the skipper muttered a small prayer. It’s something he has been doing for the past 18 years. He knows better. Winter is the most rewarding season for deep sea fishing in the region, but it’s also the most challenging.
Sudden weather changes could cause high waves which could toss his vessel around like a rag doll, or worse still, dense fog could reduce visibility to barely a few hundred metres or less.
“We leave our fate in the hands of God every time we venture out to sea,” said Bhai, originally from India’s westernmost state, Gujarat.
“Often the waves rise up to seven metres, forcing us to scurry to Abu Dhabi’s Das or Zirco islands for shelter.”
It takes about 20 hours to reach deep sea fishing spots in the Arabian Sea, around 120km from the capital. Das and Zirko islands located at 170km and 140km from the shores are the best bet for fishermen caught in storms.
It’s past midday and the quayside is now a hive of frenzied activity as more vessels of varying size prepare to leave the shore.
Scores of fishermen dart past stacks of wicker baskets, nets and coils of rope, screaming commands above the din of screeching seagulls and boat engine noise. “Jaldi karo! (hurry up) a man shouts, gesturing urgently at a group lugging a giant gargour (metal dome-shaped netted fishing trap) to a nearby ship.
Fishermen usually spend around five days in the deep ocean and carry up to 200 GPS-equipped gargours at a time.
“We go fishing twice or three times a month depending on the weather. If conditions are bad, we remain anchored for weeks,” adds another fisherman, Rajesh Bhai, also from Gujarat. “Of course, we look up weather forecasts before setting out but in the end we are completely dependent on the providence of God.
“Should things get out of hand, we call the coast guards who rush to our rescue,” he said.
Vipul Tandle, 22, who works as a cook on one of the many fishing boats said the seaside community is like one giant family.
“We have forged some very strong ties here,” he said.