A fisherman from Kottaipattinam in Pudukottai district reportedly died after falling into the sea when his boat collided with a Sri Lankan naval vessel on Monday.
Two other fishermen on the boat were detained by Sri Lankan naval personnel on the charge of crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).
According to official sources, Rajkiran, 30, Suganthan, 23, and Arockia Xavier, 32, of Kottaipattinam, had ventured into the sea on Monday. When they were fishing in waters close to the IMBL near Katchatheevu, a Sri Lankan patrol vessel intercepted their boat.
On noticing the authorities, the fishermen reportedly tried to escape. But the Sri Lankan personnel managed to detain Suganthan and Arockia Xavier. In the melee, Rajkiran fell into the sea.
M. Chinnakuppan, Assistant Director of Fisheries, Pudukottai, told The Hindu that he had received communication that Rajkiran’s body had been recovered from the sea, and it had been taken to Kankesanthurai for post-mortem examination.
“The information has been conveyed to his family. Steps are under way to bring back his body as early as possible,” he said.
However, the Sri Lankan Navy on Tuesday evening said the body had not been found, and the search operation was still on.
Meanwhile, angered over the death of Rajkiran, the fishermen of Kottaipattinam resorted to a road blockade on the East Coast Road on Tuesday, holding the Sri Lankan Navy responsible for his death. They raised slogans against the Sri Lankan Navy.
M. Asan Mohaideen, president, Mechanised Boat Fishermen Association, Kottaipattinam, who led the protest, alleged that the young fisherman was beaten to death. Others who were fishing in the same location had witnessed the boat sinking after being hit by a Sri Lankan vessel. The Sri Lankan Navy, which had refrained from opening fire on fishermen for the last few years, was following “illegitimate methods” to kill innocent fishermen, he claimed. He urged the Central and State governments to take serious note of the issue.
However, the Sri Lankan Navy on Tuesday said it rescued two fishermen from an Indian vessel that was sinking, adding that it had been “poaching in Sri Lankan waters”. A search operation was under way to find another fisherman, who “went missing” following the incident, a statement said. The two “rescued fishermen” were detained in Kankesanthurai in Jaffna.
When asked about the missing fisherman, the Sri Lankan Navy's media spokesman, Captain Indika De Silva, said the search was ongoing. "We are also in touch with an Indian naval vessel conducting a similar search operation on the Indian side of the IMBL," he told The Hindu.
With regard to the incident, the Sri Lankan Navy said its patrol units were “chasing away” Indian fishing trawlers when one vessel, with “aggressive manoeuvres”, resisted the chase, resulting in the collision.
Tamil Nadu fishermen have repeatedly accused the Sri Lankan Navy of attacking them and their vessels — an allegation the island nation has denied.
Following a similar incident in January, four Tamil Nadu fishermen, Samson Darwin, 28, A. Mesiya, 30, V. Nagaraj, 52, and S. Senthil Kumar, 32, from Ramanathapuram, died. There has been no official word so far on the investigation into their deaths.