Kin stage protest against undue delay in their release

Forty one fishermen from Rameswaram and Mandapam, who were arrested by the Sri Lankan navy in July and August and set free by the Mannar District Court in the island nation on Wednesday, returned here on Saturday morning amid protest by their family members outside the Mandapam station of the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) against the delay in their release.

The fishermen, who arrived at the Mandapam anchorage on Friday at 7.45 p.m., remained on the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) vessel overnight. They were allowed to walk out of the Mandapam station of the ICG on Saturday morning after the police, Intelligence Bureau and Q Branch police completed their enquiries.

Protesting against the delay in their release, about 100 family members, including women and children, who kept waiting on Friday night before going home, returned early in the morning and staged a demonstration outside the station. They raised slogans against the ICG for not letting out the fishermen even 12 hours after their arrival. Suddenly emotional scenes were witnessed as women and children started crying on seeing their kin walking out from the station, ending their days of agonising wait and ordeal. The family members hugged the fatigued fishermen with tears of joy.

Media persons also had a bitter experience as they were made to wait for about four hours from 6 a.m. When the Coast Guard officials called them inside around 10 a.m. after the security agencies completed the formalities, they refused and chose to take pictures from outside the station. A  Coast Guard official expressed regret citing communication gap.

The fishermen — 28 from Rameswaram and 13 from Mandapam — were arrested by the Lankan navy in two batches on July 6 and August 4 on the charge of fishing in the Lankan waters after crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL). The fishermen were repatriated without their 10 trawlers as the Mannar District Court, while ordering their release, detained the vessels and posted the case to December 11.

Though the fishermen were released from Vavuniya prison on Wednesday itself, their repatriation took place only on Friday when the ICG vessel Rajtharang took charge of the fishermen from the Lankan navy at the IMBL at 5 p.m.

“The Lankan navy personnel treated us badly and we were denied basic facilities in the prison,” said Muniasamy, a fisherman from Mandapam. He was beaten up by the Lankan navy personnel and suffered an injury on his left hand, he said. The fishermen had observed a day’s fast inside the jail demanding their release with the boats and they were pacified by the officials, they said. The anguished fishermen urged the authorities to secure the release of the boats before the onset of the northeast monsoon as the boats would be exposed to gusty winds and damaged.