Fishermen Arrested As Indian Authorities Struggle To Retrieve John Allen Chau From Remote Island

Not only are the Sentinelese openly hostile to outsiders, but India has a ban placed on the island to protect the remote inhabitants.

Aerial view of North Sentinel Island, Andaman
vivaswa / Shutterstock

Not only are the Sentinelese openly hostile to outsiders, but India has a ban placed on the island to protect the remote inhabitants.

Indian authorities are trying to work out how to retrieve John Allen Chau, 27, a U.S. missionary, who was reportedly killed by a remote tribe on the North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal.

John Allen Chau has not been seen since he traveled to the remote island inhabited by a tribe of people who are known to be openly hostile to foreigners. Fishermen who have ventured close to the island have reported seeing Chau’s body and authorities have since been trying to work out how to retrieve the missing missionary, according to CNN.

Chau was ferried to the island on November 17 by the same fishermen who reported seeing his body to authorities, according to BBC. It was also reported that these same fishermen saw the tribe drag a body across the beach and then bury it. One of the fishermen has since traveled back to the island with authorities to the point where he saw this activity.

“We have mapped the area with the help of these fishermen,” said Dependra Pathak, a police official in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

“We have not spotted the body yet but we roughly know the area where he is believed to be buried.”

While there is no official confirmation of the death of Chau, it is known he was planning to visit the island in an effort to convert the inhabitants, known as Sentinelese, to Christianity. This was not Chau’s first visit to the island, either. It is reported that he made a trip to the same location years earlier. So, was likely aware of the dangers involved with the inhabitants of the island.

Now, as authorities are mapping out a plan, it appears that their recovery mission is fraught with danger. A search and recovery group approached the island on Friday and Saturday. However, signs of hostilities from the Sentinelese have already been witnessed.

“The mission was done from a distance to avoid any potential conflict with the tribespeople as it’s a sensitive zone,” Pathak said. “We are discussing with anthropologists and psychologists about the nature of the Sentinelese.”

Six fishermen and one other person have been arrested in relation to the incident as outsiders are banned from approaching the island, according to the BBC.

“There are legal requirements as well which we need to keep in mind while carrying out the operation,” Pathak said.

“We are also studying the 2006 case where two local fishermen were killed. The bodies were recovered then.”

This ban is not only to protect foreigners from attack by the Sentinelese, but to protect the remote tribe from diseases that maybe, potentially, brought in by outsiders. And, with the latest census survey estimating that only 15 Sentinalese remain on the island, any form of illness could be considered devastating.

CNN reports that India has had this ban in place for several decades now. According to the ban, “people are not allowed to go within five nautical miles of the island by Indian law and the Indian Navy patrols it day and night.” While the island is classified as remote, it is actually located only 50 kilometers (31 miles) west of Port Blair, a tourist destination.