fishermen in the north and east find themselves helpless against
Indian boats poaching in Lankan waters
For them, the day begins and ends with the sea. Their survival lies
with the ocean and follows the vicissitudes of the tide. Their lives
have always been on the edge - but never of such despondency and
helplessness as it is now.
sea is beguilingly calm as the evening is ushered in on the coastal
belt of Pesalai in the Mannar district. Hidden in the distant horizon
are not sharks but a row of boats. "Sophisticated fishing boats
which instantly mangle our fishing nets when they are steered around
the areas where our nets are cast," explains Kannan, who has
lived on the bounty of the seas for the past thirty years.
problem is not only in Mannar. It is the same for the entire north-eastern
seas," he says adding that the intruding Indian fishermen would
often be armed with knives and acid. "It is no longer fishing
that we have to do. It is a battle and because we cannot fight their
way, we starve.”He adds that the total number of trawlers
in the Pesalai area is 260 and boats which run without a motor,
60. In the region of Thalaimannar the number of motor boats total
about 300 and fibreglass boats close upon a 100.
have been made to the Fisheries Minister, the Navy, the Indian High
Commission and the police about the proble ,all to no avail.According
to the fishermen, the problem had begun when the high security in
north-eastern seas was eased after the ceasefire agreement between
the LTTE and the former UNF government. Acccording to the fishermen,
with the fishing restriction no longer being there, the benefit
is wrenched away from the local fishermen as the Indian boats encroach
upto two kilometres from Lankan shores.
have pleaded. Once we used whatever force we could muster and persuaded
a group of Indian fishermen to have a decent discussion with us,"
says one man recalling an incident nearly a month ago when a couple
of Indian boats were rounded up and the fishermen coerced into conversation.
He explains that where the sharing of the seas is concerned, India
and Sri Lanka are entitled to 10 km each. It is only 18 km from
here to the shores of India.
of us are scared of the methods they use to keep us away, especially
when we encounter them on the high seas.Then it is often the use
of acid that they resort to," says Markus Fernando, a young
fisherman who accuses the Indian fishermen not only of stealing
the bounty of Sri Lankan seas but also local boats.
is easy to drag away our boats which are small in size. Most of
the time they do this as a form of intimidation," he says as
he scans the seas afloat with a few local boats. "They are
not really fishing. For that you need to venture deeper into the
seas. The few local boats close to the shore mean that the men are
just securing the next day's meal settling for a handful of fish,"
he says. 'We do not go into the deep seas because of fear,"
he adds, reiterating what every fisherman keeps repeating the moment
you begin to speak to them.
problem they emphasize, is that if a scuffle takes place in the
high seas, the blame would fall upon them, given the lackadaisical
attitude shown by local authorities to their plight. The fishermen
add that the Mannar police had told them to “sort out the
matter themselves, without shedding blood, of course".
It is neither the police nor this government who will come to declare
our innocence," says Markus adding that nevertheless, the temptation
was to take the law into their hands.
main problem of north-eastern fishermen for the past years during
the war was that their sea movement was restricted and they were
only allowed to fish up to a maximum of five km from the shore due
to the north eastern seas being a part of the high security zone.
Although the high security zones still exist in small sea pockets
near territories occupied by the Navy, the seas are largely free
to be accessed by local fishermen.
what would happen if they ventured into the Indian territory, the
fishermen point out that would be the last anyone would hear of
the fishermen concerned, meaning that they would be arrested.
do not blame the Indian High Commission here for their lack of action.
It is the Sri Lankan government we blame. Nobody realises or cares
that it is the resources of this country that are being plundered.
Millions worth of fish is being taken away from us, from our seas.
We are also losing lobsters, crabs and prawns," say the angry
Minister seeks Navy’s help
Deputy Minister for Fisheries Nihal Galapathy who had
visited Mannar a month ago to discuss the issue with local authorities,
said he would lobby for the Navy to be vested with powers to arrest
any foreign fishermen on Sri Lankan sea territory.
Navy is so far authorized only to take away the fishing permit from
Indian fishermen found fishing in Sri Lankan seas. They are not
authorized to arrest them. The root of the problem is this and the
absence of patrolling by the Navy.”He admits that close upon
1,000 Indian boats are found on the Mannar coastal belt sometimes.
"What we want to urge is that equal measures be taken for both
Sri Lankan fishermen found in Indian waters and Indian fishermen
found in Sri Lankan waters," the Deputy Minister adds emphasizing
that Sri Lankan fishermen are taken into custody even though they
may have been swept into Indian waters due to bad weather conditions.
Government Agent for Mannar, S.Vishwalingham claims that he has
taken up the matter 'as best as he could' with the Ministry of Defence,
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Fisheries.
is only the Navy which can stop this.But on a request made by me
for regular patrolling by the Navy, I was informed that they do
not have the fleet to do so," he said claiming that the Indian
fishermen come within two kilometres of the Mannar shores. He also
says that a large amount of fishing nets are stolen by the Indian
of the Mannar police, C.I Premasiri when contacted said that although
it is the police which received the bulk of the complaints made
by the local fishermen they cannot take any action because it is
a 'matter of the seas'. But the police and the Navy could work together
to create a proper mechanism that will ensure the dignity of the
local fishermen, he says.No comment could be obtained from the Indian
High Commission or the Navy Media and Communication Unit, despite