Twenty-three fishermen, who were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy recently for trespassing into the island nation's waters, returned to Mandapam on Thursday along with five mechanised fishing trawlers.

The fishermen, mostly from Thangatchimadam and Pamban in Rameswaram island, were released on Wednesday after legal formalities. The repatriation took place at the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) near Katchatheevu.

A Sri Lankan Naval ship, which brought the fishermen, handed them over to a patrolling vessel of the Indian Coast Guard. A large number of people, including family members, relatives, workers of political parties and others, received them at Mandapam.

“The repatriation took place in a smooth manner. The fishermen were handed over to the Assistant Director of Fisheries safely,” Commandant Harish More, Commanding Officer, Coast Guard Station, Mandapam, told The Hindu.

The fishermen were interrogated by the Intelligence Bureau, “Q” Branch and SBCID on the circumstances that led to their arrest by the Sri Lankan Navy.

“We were stranded at sea near Kachchatheevu on June 20 owing to engine snag when the island navy surrounded our boats.

The boats were towed to Thalaimannar by the naval personnel,” A. Vijayan (28) of Raja Nagar in Thangatchimadam said.

J. Kingston (26) of Thangatchimadam, who had already spent 20 days in Sri Lankan jails in 2009 for a similar offence, said though they were frequently transferred from one jail to another, the Sri Lankan authorities looked after them well. Indian High Commission officials met them while they were in custody.

The fishermen thanked the State and Central governments for their speedy release. Arulanandam, representative, Alliance for the Release of Innocent Fishermen, wanted India and Sri Lanka to explore the possibility of identifying a fishing zone in traditional waters as it would facilitate peaceful fishing.

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