Consul-General of India in Jaffna says they are innocent

Five fishermen from Rameswaram have been arrested on the charge of ferrying a Sri Lankan Tamil woman and her child illegally from Kachchatheevu after the annual St. Antony's festival on the island.

Highly placed sources told The Hindu that V. Mahalingam, Consul-General of India in Jaffna, has sent a communiqué to the Director of Fisheries, Government of Tamil Nadu, stating that the fishermen and owner of the boat could not be faulted for ferrying the Sri Lankans.

“The boat owners,” the communiqué said, “are innocent since they only followed the instructions of Indian Consulate officials and the Sri Lankan Navy. It is our opinion that the boatmen and owner are innocent and may be released and the Sri Lankans may be dealt in accordance with the established procedure and the law.”

Issue to be discussed

K. Jeyaraman, holding charge as Collector, said the issue would be discussed in detail and a solution found.

Usha (33) of Trincomalee landed in Rameswaram along with her 4-year-old daughter Neera on Sunday by joining a group of pilgrims returning from Kachchatheevu, an island on the Sri Lankan side of the maritime boundary.

The mechanised boat owned by Devadoss of Rameswaram, which went to the island carrying pilgrims for the St. Antony's festival, also ferried the Sri Lankans.

The woman was caught by police, customs and immigration officials who questioned them on their arrival.

Besides arresting her under the Foreigners Act 1946, the Coastal Security Group police arrested five crew members of the boat — Ayuthapoojai (37), Kumaresan (27), Kannan (44), Munianathan (35) and Pandi (40) — on the charge of ferrying them illegally to Rameswaram.

The Coastal Security Group police of Mandapam, which registered a case against them, produced them before a Judicial Magistrate in Rameswaram, who remanded them to 15 days' judicial custody.

The Sri Lankan woman has been taken to the Central Jail in Tiruchi, which has a special ward to look after the child.

Request came from a priest

According to the police, the fishermen told the security agencies during interrogation that they brought the Sri Lankans in their boat as requested by a priest based in Rameswaram, who had also gone to Kachchatheevu.

The mechanised boat fishermen of Rameswaram refrained from venturing into the sea on Monday to protest the fishermen's arrest.

They demanded the withdrawal of cases filed against them fishermen.

They had not ferried the Sri Lankans for money. Moreover, they had not acted on their own in bringing them.

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