SL to release all Indian fishermen before Thai Pongal

  • Will not release Indian trawlers and fishing gear

  • SL Navy refutes allegations of falsely slapping charges on Indian fishermen

By Shanika Sriyananda

As a good will gesture to strengthen its friendship with India, the government has decided to release all Indian fishermen in custody before Thai Pongal Day on 15 January.

Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Minister Mahinda Amaraweera told the Daily FT that the government has no interest in keeping the Indian fishermen in prison but want to discourage them intruding into Sri Lankan waters.

“It has become a menace. The business is operated by some of the Tamil Nadu politicians, who own the trawlers,” he claimed adding that the government wanted to send all the Indian fishermen in custody, home so they could celebrate Thai Pongal with their families.

Meanwhile, with the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) arresting 29 Tamil Nadu fishermen on 29 December, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu J. Jayalalitha has again urged the Indian Primer Narendra Modi to intervene personally so as to get them released soon.

Writing a letter to Modi, Jayalalitha has claimed that there are 84 fishermen and 62 fishing boats in Sri Lankan custody.

“The recurrent instances of attacks upon, and abductions of, our fishermen on the high seas in the Palk Bay continue unabated and are a matter of serious concern affecting the life and livelihood of Tamil Nadu fishermen on a daily basis,” she has written in her letter.

Claiming that the fishing boats in Sri Lankan custody have been badly damaged as they have not been used for several months, she has stated that she refuses to accept the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) between the two countries.

Minister Amaraweera said the government would release all Indian fishermen as the Sri Lankan government did not wish to keep them in the country’s prisons,  although not in answer to Jayalalitha’s request.

“It will be carried out on mutual understanding between the two countries. The Indian High Commission in Colombo has also communicated with us on this matter and we want the Indian government to release Sri Lankan fishermen in their jails too,” he said.

But Amaraweera reiterated that following government policy decision, the boats, mainly  trawlers, and the fishing gear belonging to the Indian fishermen will not be released.

“We have made this policy decision not to release their boats and other fishing gear, mainly to discourage them intruding into our waters and destroying our marine resources,” he explained.

Meanwhile, the SLN has refuted the accusation of some Tamil Nadu politicians who claimed that the SLN was forcibly taking the Indian fishermen into custody.

The Leader of the Pattali Makkal Katchi S. Ramadoss alleged that the SLN was forcefully taking the fishermen from Indian waters and charging them falsely for trespassing into Sri Lanka’s territorial waters.

Ramadoss, in a statement said 29 fishermen from Akkaraipettai in Nagapattinam district were fishing near Point Calimere when the Sri Lankan navy attacked and apprehended them.

“Incidents of the Sri Lankan navy falsely framing Indian fishermen and of the Sri Lankan navy infiltrating Indian waters, have increased. Apprehending innocent fishermen and remanding them in custody for nearly 3 months in prison are human rights violations and this is a very dangerous trend followed by Sri Lanka,” he claimed.

When contacted the SLN media spokesman Captain Alavi Akram refuted the allegations saying that they were false allegations and that the SLN with the assistance of the Sri Lanka Coast Guards only arrest  those who are intruding into Sri Lankan waters.

“Who will remain blind when somebody illegally enters into your domain?  This is what happens with regard to the Indian fishermen. We will arrest anyone who enters into our IMBL,” he stressed.

Akram said the SLN has proof, in all incidents of Indian fishermen who have been taken into custody,  that they were fishing in Sri Lankan waters.

He said in the recent incident of 29 Indian fishermen and three trawlers taken into custody, they had been engaged in fishing near Kokilai off Trincomalee.

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