Bangladesh has launched a joint air and naval operation against pirates in the Bay of Bengal in an effort to rescue 50 fishermen kidnapped at the weekend, a coast guard officer said on Tuesday.
The fishermen were captured on Sunday by Bangladeshi pirates as they were fishing in the Bay close to the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, Lieutenant Commander Shafiqul Alam told AFP.
“At least four ships from the Bangladesh Navy, two helicopters from the Bangladesh Air Force and our high-speed boats are taking part in the operations in the Sundarbans and its surrounding area in the Bay,” Alam said.
The pirates have contacted the owners of the fishermen’s boats and demanded a ransom, with the fishermen believed to have been taken deep inside the forest.
“The navy ships have cordoned off the potential area while navy and coast guard officers are scouring the river channels inside the forest,” Alam added.
Kidnapping for ransom occurs occasionally along the country’s estuaries where hundreds of thousands of fishermen catch hilsha, the most popular fish in Bangladesh and major parts of eastern India.
Local police chief Monirul Ghias told AFP that combating piracy had become increasingly difficult as pirates were now armed with sophisticated weapons and boats and they use the forest as a haven to conduct raids on fishing boats.
Alam said the joint drive by more than 300 officers was the largest ever undertaken by the authorities.
“Our aim is not only rescuing the fishermen, but also flushing out pirates from the Sundarbans,” he said, adding a number of pirate gangs had recently made the dense forest their hideout.