Wait for return of two arrested Indian fishermen, 1 body from Sri Lanka continues

An Indian fishing boat sank after it allegedly 'collided' with a Sri Lankan Navy craft in the Palk Strait - the waters between India and Sri Lanka. 

Wait for return of two arrested Indian fishermen, 1 body from Sri Lanka continues
Image used for representational purpose

Chennai: It’s been four days since Indian fishermen Rajkiran, Xavier and Suganthiran left their respective homes in the Kottaipattinam fishing hamlet in Southern Tamil Nadu, they are currently in Lankan custody after their boat sank near the Delft island (between India and Sri Lanka). 

The fishing boat they were traveling in, sank after it allegedly 'collided' with a Sri Lankan Navy craft. While Xavier and Suganthiran survied, Rajkiran is said to have drowned in the incident. His body is being awaited along with the two fishers who were expected to be repatriated by Wednesday night.

During the course of the week, the fishing community from Ramanathapuram and Pudukottai districts in Tamil Nadu have been protesting what they call a “deliberate action of colliding and sinking Indian fishing boat”. It has been alleged that the latest incident bears striking resemblance to an incident from January earlier this year when a Lankan Navy Boat had allegedly crashed into an Indian fishing vessel, leading to the capture and death of its four crew members. 

“The boat capsized because of them (Lankan forces), this was not an unexpected incident like they have been projecting. Their Navy has radars and a collision like this cant happen - they chased the boat and it ended up like this. Sri Lanka is responsible,” complains Prabhakaran, a fishermen who is said to have been traveling on another boat, that was near to the ill-fated one. 

The announcement of the retrieval of the body came on Wednesday afternoon. However, as of Friday evening, there seems to be no indication of their return. The fishermen community were hoping to get back their two men and the body of another by Friday evening (repatriation is usually done by night, so as to prevent law and order issues). However, they feel that their wait will be longer. 

Representatives of the Indian Traditional Fishermen Federation are aggrieved over what they refer to as the “inaction of the Indian Government and the Tamil Nadu government”. They particularly feel let down by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, who had strongly voiced concerns of fishermen and made promises to help them, while he was an opposition leader. 

“Two days after this latest incident, our Chief Minister has written to the Indian government asking them to work towards securing the release of two fishermen and for retrieving the body of the third fishermen. However, it’s ironical that he sent this letter nearly 8 hours after media reported about the body being retrieved from sea. When he (MK Stalin) was an Opposition leader, he would shoot letters instantly,” a fishermen community leader told Zee News.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan Navy has maintained that 'the Indian vessel was poaching in Sri Lankan waters, across the International Maritime Boundary Line(IMBL), on Monday'. They added that the collision occurred when the Lankan Navy craft was chasing away Indian fishing boats. 

“One of the Indian fishing trawlers, with aggressive manoeuvres, in resistance to the chase, was on an attempt to evade from the scene collided with SLN Craft in operation. In the process it ultimately descended having lost its stability as well as due to the rough sea condition,” the Lankan Navy statement read. 

The issue between fishermen in Tamil Nadu and the Lankan Navy has been a long-standing and a thorny one. It is often alleged that Indian fishermen deliberately head to Lankan waters (where the quality and quantity of catch is better) and indulge in bottom trawling, an unsustainable fishing practice that affects the ecology and marine life in the long-term. 

Sri Lanka maintains that arrests of foreign fishermen is done to protect the livelihood of their own fishing community. Recently, Lankan fishermen from the northern part of the island country had protested, demanding their Government to act against Indian fishermen who were trespassing into their waters. They made attempts to pressure the Indian and Sri Lankan authorities to act against those involved in illegal fishing.

According to India’s National Traditional Fishermen Federation, the latest incident involving the Sri Lankan Navy is seen as deliberate retribution for another recent untoward incident, which involved an Indian boat. A few weeks back, a large Indian fishing trawler from Tamil Nadu had collided with and sunk a smaller Lankan fishing boat. 

While the Lankan boat was fully damaged the Lankan fishermen survived and returned to the shore. It is believed that, had the Indian Government or Tamil Nadu government taken some action against the errant Indian boat and offered compensation to the Lankan fishermen, things would have been amicably resolved. 

Indian fishermen believe that holding talks between them and their Sri Lankan counterparts would help resolve some of the misunderstandings that are based on the recent collision and alleged trespass. 

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