Sri Lanka has reiterated its call to India to end a deadlock on a fishing dispute between the two countries as more fishermen from both sides were taken into custody for allegedly intruding into each other’s territorial waters. The call was made when India’s Navy Chief D.K. Joshi met President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne. The Naval chief was in Sri Lanka to attend the ‘Galle Dialogue’ organised by the Sri Lanka Navy to discuss maritime issues.
The issues of poaching by Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan waters and the need to honour international conventions on providing a safe passage for Lankan fishermen to enter international waters were taken up, Deputy Fisheries Minister Sarath Kumara Gunaratne told the Sunday Times.
Mr. Gunaratne said the President was referring to a call made by the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to the Indian government through Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Ministry that fishermen heading for international waters via Indian territorial waters should be given free access.
The Sri Lankan side also had raised the issue about the release of Sri Lankan fishermen taken into custody in India. At least 154 Lankan fishermen are still in custody in India. Most of the fishermen arrested in Indian territorial waters claimed that they had been taken in while heading for international waters.
Sri Lanka has so far not received a response from India to its call to honour ‘innocent passage’ for its fishermen. Indian High Commission officials declined to comment on a letter addressed to High Commissioner K.N. Sinha in this regard. Sri Lankan fishermen who have been issued a ‘fishing operations licence’ for high seas fishing have been advised they could pass through the Indian territorial waters to enter the high seas of the Indian Ocean outside the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of another country. They have also been provided a map by the local authorities specifying the route through Indian territorial waters.
The licence says that it is being issued under the UN Law of the Sea Convention 1982, the UN Fish Stock Agreement 1995 and the Resolutions of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC). However local fishermen said Indian coast guards in the recent weeks had not accepted the ‘licence’.
The moves came as the European Union also engaged India on allegations of indulging in Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing methods. “The EU is in contact with India in relation to the IUU Regulations,” Oliver Drewes, EU spokesperson for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries told the Sunday Times. More....