Rajitha Senaratne said that though a large number of Indian fishermen were found trespassing, the government now decided not be too harsh on them.

The Sri Lankan government is considering confiscating Indian trawlers if they trespass into their waters, Sri Lanka's Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Minister Rajitha Senaratne said here on Thursday.

“We recognise the fact that this is a livelihood issue for the Indian fishermen. We will release them immediately. It is the owners of the trawlers who need to be dealt with – those business magnets. We have decided not to return the trawlers we confiscate. At least, that should act as a deterrent,” he said.

Observing that the incidence of Indian fishermen allegedly crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) had become a major issue in Indo-Lanka relations, he said that while India [Centre] understood the seriousness of the problem, Tamil Nadu complicated the matter.

The Fisheries Minister’s remarks come soon after Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris visited India. During the visit, Mr. Peiris ruled out the early repatriation of over 100 fishermen – currently in Sri Lankan prisons, and had said that the Sri Lankan government would undergo the entire judicial process.

However, Mr. Senaratne on Thursday said that though a large number of Indian fishermen were found trespassing, the government now decided not be too harsh on them.

“They are not to blame. That is why we are considering confiscation of trawlers,” he said, addressing a press conference here.

Tamil Nadu unfailingly makes a lot of noise every time fishermen from the State are arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy.

Ironically, the real victims of the problem are largely Tamil fishermen in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka.

Antonypillai Emileyampillai, president of a collective that represents fishermen of Jaffna, said: “Indians don’t know what we go through. Their trawlers damage our nets and our fishermen end up borrowing heavily to repair the nets. Trespassing is just not acceptable and the fishermen of Jaffna have a strong position on that.”