The Indian Coast Guard has begun arresting scores of Sri Lankan fishermen in a move seen as retaliation for the arrests of those from Tamil Nadu poaching in Sri Lanka’s waters in the Palk Strait. So far 107 Lankan fishermen, who were on the “innocent passage” to the Arabian Sea have been arrested, Deputy Fisheries Minister Sarath Kumara Gunaratne told the Sunday Times.
He said the Indian Coast Guard had alleged that the Lankan fishermen were engaged in fishing activity in Indian waters.
Mr. Gunaratne said the arrests of Tamil Nadu fishermen were made by the Sri Lanka Navy only after they had crossed the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) that divided the narrow sea between Sri Lanka and India. Some 93 Tamil Nadu fishermen are in remand custody in Sri Lankan jails. “In the case of our fishermen, they were only going to the Arabian Sea in multi-day fishing trawlers. Such ‘innocent passage’ is provided for in the Law of the Sea Convention of 1982,” he said.
A written Sri Lankan request signed by Fisheries Director General Nimal Hettiaratchchi, calling for the release of 107 Sri Lankan fishermen has been handed over to India’s High Commissioner S.K. Sinha. The letter says the local fishermen were all on “innocent passage” and the director general has urged India to allow them this innocent passage.
The Deputy Minister said that last month nine Sri Lankan vessels were detained together with 56 fishermen. He said the Indian move had caused unrest among the local fisher community. The multi-day trawlers that have been apprehended are subject to long layoffs in the ports of India depriving them of their source of income.
Mr. Gunaratne said that if India did not heed Sri Lanka’s request, the Government would be compelled to seek the assistance of neighbouring Maldives to use sea lanes in its economic zone for local fishermen to enter the Arabian Sea.