8:58 am - Sunday November 8, 2015

50 Indian fishermen arrested by Sri Lankan Navy

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The Sri Lankan Navy arrested 50 Indian fishermen off Point Pedro in Jaffna on Monday, on charges of poaching in Sri Lankan waters. As many as seven trawlers in their possession were seized.

The arrest comes at a time when fishermen on either side of the Palk Strait are voicing concern about the lack of progress in finding a solution to the ongoing fisheries conflict between fishermen of India and Sri Lanka.

There are currently 38 Indian fishermen and 55 trawlers in Sri Lankan custody, according to P. Sesu Raja, leader of a Ramanathapuram-based association of fishermen using mechanised boats. “Each of the trawlers costs about 20 to 25 lakh in Indian rupees. Plus, with the direction of the wind set to change soon, we are worried that our boats there [in Sri Lanka] might get damaged,” he told The Hindu over telephone.

On Monday, fishermen leaders in Ramanathapuram held a demonstration demanding that Chief Minister Jayalalithaa send a delegation of ministers and fisher leaders to New Delhi to press the Centre for steps to free fishermen and their boats from Sri Lanka.

“This issue is getting serious now, our business has been hit very badly. We are also urging the Indian government to free the Sri Lankan fishermen in its custody,” Mr. Sesu Raja said.

The last round of talks between fishermen of both countries, held in Colombo in May, reached a deadlock since the fishermen of the two countries could not arrive at a consensus.

There has been little progress on the issue since then, but for “goodwill gestures” — of releasing fishermen in each other’s custody — when President Mahinda Rajapaksa met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May and more recently, after Foreign Ministers G.L. Peiris and Sushma Swaraj held talks in New Delhi early July. In the July meeting, the Ministers reiterated their commitment to finding a long-term solution to the Palk Bay crisis.

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