Plight of 26 fishermen held off Kovilam Point to be known today

A magistrate court in Mannar on Thursday extended till April 26 the remand of 30 fishermen from Rameswaram.

On April 6, the Sri Lankan Navy arrested the fishermen and seized their trawlers for illegally fishing in Sri Lankan waters, north of Talaimannar. The case was heard in Mannar on Thursday.

The plight of the 26 Indian fishermen, who were held off Kovilam Point, will be known on Friday, after the hearing at the magistrate court in Kayts Island. At the previous hearing, held earlier this month, the remand of the 26 fishermen was extended up to April 19.

For several months now, fishermen from India and Sri Lanka have been caught by each other’s navy on charges of illegal fishing. But, the arrests of Indian fishermen in March and April this year, and the subsequent extension of their remand, point to the Sri Lankan Navy toughening its position on the issue.

However, the Sri Lankan government’s Ministry of External Affairs said the persistent allegations against the Sri Lankan Navy on the alleged killing and harassment of Indian fishermen were erroneous and had no factual basis. It said the Navy had been asked to treat all Tamil Nadu fishermen, who regularly crossed the Sri Lanka waters, in a humane manner.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on Sunday wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, urging him to take suitable action to secure release of all fishermen of the State, who are now in custody of the Sri Lankan authorities.

Special Correspondent adds from Ramanathapuram

Leaders of various fishermen associations have decided to adopt a wait and watch approach after a Sri Lankan court extended the remand of 30 fishermen.

Disappointed family members of the fishermen turned their ire on the leaders for not taking steps to secure the early release of the fishermen. However, the leaders have decided to wait for couple of more days following ‘positive signs’ from the island nation.

N.J. Bose, president of the Rameswaram Port Mechanised Boats fishermen association, said they would await the outcome on Friday, when 26 Karaikal fishermen, who were arrested on April 5, would be produced before the court. In the event of the court ordering their release, the Rameswaram fishermen could be released even before April 26, he hoped.

He said Sri Lankan Minister Arumugan Thondaman was present in the court when the fishermen were produced on Thursday. This was a positive sign, he said. The fishermen could not be released on Thursday following some communication gap, he said quoting his sources.

P. Sesu Raja, district secretary, Tamil Nadu Coastal Mechanised Boat fishermen association, said the dejected family members were angry with the leaders for not organising any agitation to exert pressure on the Indian government to secure the release.

There was no point in organising agitations at this stage when the situation in Rameswaram and Thangachimadam were volatile following the recent violent incidents and unrest between two groups, he said.

U. Arulanandham, president of the Alliance for Release of Innocent Fishermen (ARIF), however, was skeptical about the positive signs. He had no specific information about the early release of the fishermen. “If the Karaikal fishermen were released on Friday, there is a possibility, the Rameswaram fishermen could be released before April 26,” he said.