Four days on, wait continues for return of 2 arrested Indian fishermen, 1 body from Sri Lanka

Chennai, Tamil NaduUpdated: Oct 22, 2021, 10:01 PM IST
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(Representative Image) Photograph:(WION)

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Locals allege that the latest incident bears total resemblance to an incident from January this year where a Lankan navy boat had allegedly crashed into an Indian fishing vessel, thus leading to the capture and torture and death of its four crew members

It’s been four days since Indian fishermen Rajkiran, Xavier and Suganthiran left from their respective homes in the Kottaipattinam fishing hamlet in Southern state of Tamil Nadu.

The fishing boat they were traveling in sunk near the Delft island (between India and Sri Lanka), owing to what the Sri Lankan Navy calls "a collision" with their Navy craft.

While the respective families of the fishermen and their community continue to wait for the return of Xavier and Suganthiran (who were arrested by the Lankan Navy), the family of Rajkiran would have to wait for a body bag. 

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 the Indian fishing boat". They allege that the latest incident bears total resemblance to an incident from January this year where a Lankan navy boat had allegedly crashed into an Indian fishing vessel, thus leading to the capture and torture and death of its four crew members. 

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

The announcement of having retrieved the mortal remains came on Wednesday afternoon. However, as of Friday evening, there seems to be no indication of their impeding return. Fishermen community members were hoping to get back their two men and the mortal remains of the third fisherman by Friday evening — repatriation is usually done by night, so as to prevent law and order issues. However, they feel that their wait would be longer. 

Representatives of the Indian Traditional Fishermen Federation are aggrieved over what they refer to as the "inaction of the central and the local government". They particularly feel let down by Tamil Nadu’s 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 central 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 eight hours after media reported about the body being retrieved from sea. When he was an opposition leader, he would shoot letters instantly," wondered a fishermen community leader who spoke to WION.

Regarding this incident, 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 of chase away, was on an attempt to evade from the scene making it 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,” read the Lankan Navy statement. 

The issue between fishermen in Tamil Nadu and the Lankan navy has been a long-standing and 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 are being 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 had sunken a smaller Lankan fishing boat. While the Lankan boat was fully damaged and lost, the Lankan fishermen survived and returned to the shore. It is believed that, had the 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.