Assistant Director of Fisheries received them; they said they were not harassed by Sri Lankan authorities
Nineteen Rameswaram fishermen, who were released by a Sri Lankan court on Thursday, returned home to an emotional reunion at the Rameswaram fishing jetty on Friday afternoon.
The fatigued fishermen, who had spent a month in captivity, were greeted with tears of joy by their family members and the fisherfolk when they arrived with their four trawlers around 2 p.m.
The fishermen were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy on March 13 for allegedly fishing in the Sri Lankan waters and remanded in judicial custody in Vavuniya and Anurathapuram prisons.
On Friday morning, the Sri Lankan Navy handed over them, along with their four boats, to the Indian Coast Guard at the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) for repatriation. The Mandapam station of the Indian Coast Guard received them in its newly inducted ACV H190 hovercraft at the border and handed over the fishermen to the fisheries department about one nautical mile from the coast.
Assistant Director Fisheries (Rameswaram) I. Philomin Thiagarajan received the fishermen and brought them to the shore. The released fishermen said they were not harassed by the Sri Lankan authorities, but complained that two of their boats anchored at the navy jetty in Mannar were damaged.
They claimed that they were fishing off Danushkodi in the Indian waters, when the Sri Lankan Navy detained them.
“When we challenged them with our GPS, they took us, promising to release in one hour after getting our signatures, but jailed us,” said A. Shelton (36) from Manthopu in Thangachimadam.
B. Balamurugan, a 19-year-old youth from Thangachimadam, said, “They gave us food in the prison, including fish curry, but I did not like the food. We were all accommodated in a hall in the prison and we were not beaten up by the jail staff. Indian officials visited us and provided us dress.”
R. Soosai (44) from Soosaiappar Pattinam near Thangachimadam said the fishermen argued with the Magistrate to release them when they were produced before him after expiry of 15 days remand on March 28, but advised by the police not to argue with the Magistrate. He alleged that the police beat some of the fishermen, after which, they were shifted from Vavuniya prison to Anurathapuram prison.
U. Arulanandham, president of Alliance for the Release of Innocent Fishermen (ARIF), who came to the jetty to receive the fishermen, said he had informed the court and Indian High Commission officials about the damage to the boats, after which, the boats were anchored separately to avoid any further damage.
P. Sesu Raja, district secretary, Tamil Nadu Coastal Mechanised Boat Fishermen Association, said it would cost Rs. 1 lakh to 3 lakh to repair the boats and appealed to the State government to help the fishermen.
Local town Congress president K. Pari Rajan welcomed the fishermen by presenting them shawls.