Established conventions and procedures were followed in the recent visit of the family of a dead fisherman from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka and back, officials have said.

The family arrived in Jaffna, identified the body and performed the last rites here last Friday. This led to certain quarters in Sri Lanka and a section of its media claiming that India had violated immigration laws and that the authorities had not taken any action.

Because of the close interaction between fishermen of the two countries and because of the narrow Palk Straits, Indian and Sri Lankan authorities have often relied on precedent when it came to the question of resolving issues. In this case, both sides followed an immediate precedent, from July 2009, when the last rites of six fishermen were performed in Jaffna.

Search operations

According to the Sri Lanka Navy, it had launched a search and rescue operation for a missing trawler, following a request from the Indian High Commission here. On April 6, a body was found off the Island of Delft and it was handed over to Kayts Police. As there was suspicion that this could be of a crew of the missing trawler, Indian authorities were informed. [No details of the trawler or the fate of the remaining three, who were part of the crew, is available].

“As there was a requirement for relatives to identify the body and considering the urgency of the matter both the governments agreed to transfer the relatives of the crew members of the missing trawler by sea in keeping with the past practice of handling the issues related to fishermen and as a gesture of goodwill,” the Navy said. 

On April 9, the Navy took six relatives of the crew members brought by an Indian Coast Guard vessel to the International Maritime Boundary Line and transferred them to Jaffna. The Sri Lankan police and the Consulate of India in Jaffna were involved in the process to facilitate positive identification of the body and for subsequent formalities and last rites. 

“Humanitarian gesture”

“It is reiterated that at no time did the Indian Coast Guard vessel enter the Sri Lankan waters and that the arrangements by the Sri Lankan authorities were made as a humanitarian gesture,” the Navy added. 

As on Monday, there are 29 Sri Lankan fishermen in Indian custody. Earlier this month, four Sri Lankan fishermen and their boat went missing.

On fisheries issues, the two countries have been on the same side in international fora. At the recent Indian Ocean Tuna Commission meeting, India defended Sri Lanka, which was accused of Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported fishing, near the Chagos Islands (British Indian Ocean Territory).

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