Indo-Lanka fishing row: Net gets more tangled than unravelled

Dead Indian fisherman’s brother charges Lankan sailors accosted them
By Chris Kamalendran

The dispute over the disappearance of four Indian fishermen and the subsequent recovery of two of their bodies has taken a fresh turn with the relatives of one of the victims claiming that ' a large Sri Lankan Navy vessel' was involved in the initial confrontation.

The allegation had been levelled by the brother of one of the victims who testified at a magisterial inquiry last weekend in Jaffna before the body of one of the fishermen was released to them. Xavier Luman, 38 told the inquiry that he was in one of the 300 odd Indian fishing boats when he witnessed his brother’s boat confronted by what he described as a ‘large Sri Lankan Navy vessel’. He did not specify whether they were in Sri Lankan territorial waters or not.

The post mortem on the dead fisherman being held in Jaffna last week and (right) the victim’s relatives from India arriving at the JMO’s office in Jaffna. Pix by N. Parameshwaran

However, the Navy has denied any involvement in confronting the boat. Indian fishermen poaching in northern Sri Lankan waters remains an unresolved contentious issue between the two countries.
Luman told the inquiry that the incident occurred when they were returning after fishing around 10.45 p.m on April 2.

He told the Acting Magistrate S.A. E.. Ekanathan that on his return they lodged a complaint with the Ramanathapuram police in Tamil Nadu after they found that his brother and three others had not returned.

The victim was idenfifed as Xavier Victos. Subsequently, the Fisheries Union in Tamil Nadu filed action in a Tamil Nadu Court demanding the intervention of the Central government to prevent ‘harassment’ of their fishermen when they engage in fishing in the Palk Straits. They have earlier claimed they were being harassed by the Sri Lankan Navy, a claim denied by the Navy.

The post mortem was conducted by Judicial Medical Officer Dr S.Sivaruban. The report is due to be submitted to the Kayts Magistrate tomorrow. Initial observations had revealed that there were injuries caused to the dead fisherman by beating. The injuries were on the chest,left thigh, right arm and right toe.

Some of the organs of the deceased have been sent by the JMO to Colombo for a pathological report.
Subsquently a second body of a person believed to have been one of the crew members who sailed with Victos has been found in the Ramanathapuram coastal area. He has been identified as Anthonyraj. Two more bodies are yet to be recovered.

Meanwhile, mystery over the disapperance of four Sri Lanka Navy sailors continues. They went missing on March 30. Only their boat has been found so far. Last week six Indian fishermen arrived in Jaffna after they were escorted by the Indian Navy and handed over to the Sri Lankan Navy.

The fishermen told the Sunday Times that they were handed over to the Sri Lankan Navy off Delft.
The fishermen arrived in Jaffna without following the usual immigration procedures, but the Navy said it was done as it is a “past practice of handling the issues related to fishermen and as a gesture of good will” (See full statement by the Navy on this page).

The Navy statement states that the fishermen were handed over at the International Martime Boundary Line (IMBL) which separates the waters between India and Sri Lanka. The fishermen were permitted to enter Sri Lanka without proper documentation after a request was made to the defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa by the Indian High Commission in Colombo. The Navy Commander was then given instructions to permit the fishermen in as a humanitarian gesture.

The developments come as Sri Lanka and India were yet to reach agreement on ironing out differences over rights of fishermen of the two countries amidst increasing complaints of poaching and arrests by the respective Navies.

Five more Sri Lankan fishermen who went out to sea from Tangalle were arrested by the Indian coastal guards in Tamil Nadu this week. The family members have been informed by the Sri Lankan government about their detention.

What the Navy said

The Sri Lanka Navy responding to last week’s Sunday Times lead story titled “Indo-Lanka fishing row deepends: Lanka ignores violation of immigration laws” states:

“Attention is drawn to article “Indo – Lanka fishing row deepens: Lanka ignores violation of immigration laws” published in the Sri Lankan newspaper “Sunday Times” on 10th April 2011.

Sri Lanka Navy wishes to state that on receiving information from the High Commission of India in Colombo that an Indian fishing trawler that had sailed from Rameshwaram on 2nd April 2011 had gone missing, Sri Lanka Navy launched a search and rescue operation to look for the missing trawler. On 6th April 2011 a dead body was found off the Island of Delft and the body was subsequently handed over to Kayts Police. As there was suspicion that this body could be of a member of the missing Indian trawler, Indian authorities were informed accordingly.

As there was a requirement for relatives to identify the dead body and considering the urgency of the matter both the governments agreed to transfer the relatives of the crew members of the missing trawler by sea in keeping with the past practice of handling the issues related to fishermen and as a gesture of goodwill.

On 9th April 2011 Sri Lanka Navy took over six relatives of the crew members from the Indian Coast Guard vessel at the International Maritime Boundary Line and transferred them to Jaffna also in liaison with the Sri Lanka Police and the Consulate of India in Jaffna, to facilitate positive identification of the dead body and for subsequent formalities and last rites.

It is reiterated that at no time did the Indian Coast Guard vessel enter the Sri Lankan waters and that the arrangements by the Sri Lankan authorities were made as a humanitarian gesture. Hence the Sri Lanka Navy is of the opinion that this incident of humanitarian assistance arranged by both Governments should not have been given the interpretation of a case of violating the country’s immigration laws.”

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