There is no such thing as ‘traditional fishing waters’ between Sri Lanka and India, Navy Spokesman, Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya said, responding to a comment made by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, J. Jayalalithaa, yesterday.
The Chief Minister accused the Sri Lankan Navy of harassing Indian fishermen who were fishing in their ‘traditional waters’ in the Gulf of Mannar.
Commander Warnakulasuriya explained, the term ‘traditional fishing waters’ no longer exists as the sea area between Sri Lanka and India has been divided according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Hence, the Sri Lanka Navy is in charge of…
…protecting the sovereign waters of the Sri Lankan State from any unwelcome visitors.
“We always try to warn the Indian fishermen when they enter our waters, but the number of Indian trawlers that enter our waters are too many, at times as many as 500 enter our waters. We cannot simply chase after each and every one of them and we are compelled to arrest them,” the Commander explained.
The Indian fishermen who were arrested on Thursday, 2 January, have been handed over to the police and they are to be produced before the Courts, soon.
When Ceylon Today contacted the Director General of the Department of Fisheries, Nimal Hettiarachchi, regarding the issue of Indian fishermen fishing in Sri Lankan waters and vice versa, he said, “We are awaiting an invitation from the Indian Government for talks regarding the issue. Though we have close ties with the Indian Central Government and the Tamil Nadu Government, thus far there has been no response for talks regarding the issue of fishermen caught between the two countries.”
Hettiarachchi further said Jayalalithaa had in no manner contacted the Sri Lankan Government regarding the issue of fishermen on both sides.
Indian media reported that the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister on Tuesday alleged that the ‘repressive Sri Lanka Navy is establishing its authoritarian presence’ in the Palk Bay by chasing and arresting unarmed fishermen from Tamil Nadu, who offer no provocation.
“I am at a loss for words to convey my deepest anguish and frustration over the repeated apprehension and incarceration of a large number of Indian fishermen from Tamil Nadu by the Sri Lanka Navy,” she said in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a copy of which was released to the media.
She said these “continued oppressive acts” had caused untold misery and hardships to the apprehended fishermen and their families.
She wanted the Indian Prime Minister to personally intervene and use the diplomatic channels to secure the safe release of 250 fishermen languishing in Sri Lankan jails.
Jayalalithaa said the Sri Lanka Navy had not spared even the poorest fishermen who fish in traditional fishing boats called vallams and eke out a meagre livelihood in their traditional fishing waters in the Palk Bay.
In the latest incident, five mechanized fishing boats, with 25 fishermen belonging to Ramanathapuram set out to fish from Mandapam South fishing base on Thursday. While they were engaged in fishing in their ‘traditional fishing waters’ in the Gulf of Mannar, they were apprehended by the Sri Lanka Navy.
The Chief Minister accused the Central Government of being a mute spectator all along and not at all willing to understand the sufferings of the Indian fishermen and their families, and intervene effectively.