RANGOON — Fishermen aboard 120 boats protested along the Thanzit River against the Maday Island deep seaport in Arakan State on Monday, as authorities have banned them from fishing in a stretch of water now reserved for international cargo ships docking at the port.
Last week, nine fishermen from Maday Island in Kyaukphyu Township were granted a permit to demonstrate, under the restrictions of keeping distance from parts of the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC)-owned seaport, including the jetty and crude oil storage area, according to one of the nine organizers, U Maung Myint Soe.
“Authorities prohibited us from using the shipping lane waterways during the protest,’ U Maung Myint Soe told The Irrawaddy over the phone. “We will have to use them, though, because it’s impossible to use only one fishing lane with 100 boats.”
Chinese-owned oil tankers began docking at the seaport in early May to transport the oil through Maday terminal to the China-Burma border. Local fishermen have been restricted from catching fish near the mouth of the river where the ships dock.
About 100 fishermen were charged with trespassing by the Kyaukphyu fisheries department and fined 50,000 kyats recently for being in the restricted territorial waters.
Fisherman Aung Naing Win said nearly 500 residents set out with small boats from Kyaukphyu at 1 p.m. to Maday Island. They stopped near the seaport and then returned to demonstrate near the fence of the CNPC company compound.
Authorities told locals that the oil tankers would dock at the port three times each week, according to Aung Naing Win. But residents of Maday Island said at least six or seven ships arrived within one week, and another five shops are waiting to dock.
“There is no space for our fishing boats as the huge oil carriers come into the river and dock at Maday harbor,” he said.
U Tun Kyi, coordinator of the Kyaukpyu Rural Development Association (KRDA), said protesters demanded CNPC, owned by the Chinese government, and Burma’s state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) address the needs of local fisherman. In addition to a maximum of three ships docking at the port every week, locals want the firms to build a new jetty, phone tower, embankments, and a ring road for the island.
They also demanded the firms provide electricity to three villages, plus financial and technical assistance for agricultural and livestock businesses.
“As villagers are finding it harder to earn a living by fishing, they are seeking to earn money by cutting mangroves. This will damage our environment day by day. The company must solve these problems faced by villagers and take responsibility for damaging the villagers’ source of revenue,” said U Tun Kyi.
As most of the local fishing boats are wooden, the fishermen often refill the liners of the boats’ hulls to counter seawater corrosion. In the process of refilling the liners, the fishermen burn the surface of the boats.
Maung Myint Soe said local authorities and CNPC have interrupted the renovations because they fear the burning may lead to fires. The distance between the boat renovations and company compound is more than 250 meters, he added.
According to the Global New Light of Myanmar, China will annually transport more than 22 million metric tons of crude oil via the seaport’s terminal to the Chinese border town of Ruili. Burma would receive US$6.905 million dollars per year and $31.56 for every ton sent through the pipeline.