Eight fishermen from Thangachimadam near Rameswaram were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy near Katchatheevu island in the early hours of Sunday, on charges of poaching in international waters. Their mechanised boat was seized by the authorities.
On Saturday, around 540 fishermen from Rameswaram ventured into the sea. As they were about to return on Sunday evening, eight of them were detained by the Sri Lankan Navy for crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).
The arrested persons were Ramesh, 40, Rodick, 19, Ajit, 19, Columbus, 52, Iman, 22, Linson, 23, Pavoothi, 19, and Israel, 20. The boat was said be owned by Ramesh.
Fishermen’s associations in the coastal district strongly condemned the incident and demanded the immediate release of the arrested fishermen. In the last 26 days, 81 fishermen from Tamil Nadu and Karaikal have been arrested for poaching. “This is unacceptable and an anti-fishermen act by the Sri Lankan Navy,” said Sesu Raja, a fishermen leader in Rameswaram.
The seized boats have not been released by the Sri Lankan government. Bose, another fishermen leader, said Sri Lanka had no right to auction them. He urged the Centre and the State government to take tangible steps to ensure the safety of fishermen.
At a time when fishermen were unable to make ends meet due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the price of diesel was high, such frequent arrests by the Sri Lankan authorities may force them to stop fishing. “The fishermen are neglected by those in power on our own soil. When the government here has claimed that Sri Lanka is a friendly nation, such arrests and humiliation are baffling to us,” Mr. Bose said.
According to a Fisheries Department official, the eight arrested fishermen were being taken to a special camp in Sri Lanka, and were likely to be produced before a court.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan Navy said its patrol teams apprehended an Indian trawler and fishermen engaged in the illegal practice of “bottom trawling’” on the Sri Lankan side of the IMBL in the Palk Strait.
The fisheries conflict affecting the fishermen of Tamil Nadu and the war-affected Tamil fishermen of northern Sri Lanka is back in focus, in the wake of a spate of arrests by the Sri Lankan Navy and the deaths of two Jaffna-based fishermen, reportedly in mid-sea clashes with their Tamil Nadu counterparts. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has sought New Delhi’s swift intervention to ensure the arrested fishermen’s release.
High-level visit likely
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar is likely to visit Sri Lanka in mid-March, possibly with a senior representative from the Tamil Nadu government, to discuss the escalating tensions between the fishermen of India and Sri Lanka in the Palk Strait, among other bilateral matters, diplomatic sources told The Hindu.
However, the dates are yet to be fixed, with the Russia-Ukraine crisis dominating world affairs. If the visit materialises, the possible inclusion of a senior Tamil Nadu Minister in the Indian delegation would be significant, signalling Tamil Nadu’s willingness to work with the Centre on the long-festering fisheries issue.
Though it was bilaterally agreed during Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris’s visit earlier this month, that the next Joint Working Group meeting on fisheries would be convened before Mr. Jaishankar’s scheduled visit, no date had been proposed yet, official sources in New Delhi said.
Fishermen’s associations from both sides are open to resuming talks, but northern Sri Lankan fishermen have emphatically stated that unless their Tamil Nadu counterparts immediately stop the practice of bottom trawling, widely deemed destructive to marine resources, they would have little faith in talks.