Fishing dispute: Sri Lanka arrests 68 Indian fishermen, seizes 10 boats in three days

Sri Lanka has arrested 68 Indian fishermen and seized 10 fishing vessels in the last three days, as the scale and intensity of the recent crackdown indicate Colombo’s hardening approach to what it says is illegal poaching in its territorial waters—a perennial issue between Colombo and New Delhi

Dec 21, 2021
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India-Sri Lanka: Fishing dispute

Sri Lanka has arrested 68 Indian fishermen and seized 10 fishing vessels in the last three days, as the scale and intensity of the recent crackdown indicate Colombo’s hardening approach to what it says is illegal poaching in its territorial waters—a perennial issue between Colombo and New Delhi. 

In a fresh operation on Monday, the Sri Lankan Navy arrested 13 Indian fishing vessels and seized two vessels in the seas west of Jaffna’s Analathivu Island. The operation, part of its broader crackdown on illegal fishing in its waters, was conducted by the 4th Fast Attack Flotilla (4 FAF) attached to the Northern Naval Command, the Navy was quoted as saying by Colombo page. 

Earlier on Sunday, in a similar crackdown, the Sri Lanka Navy said it arrested 55 Indian fishermen and seized eight trawlers in two operations near the Deft island off the Jaffna coast,  and Mandapam near India’s Rameshwaram. This brings the total number of fishermen arrested to 68 in the last three days. 

The operation was in compliance with the COVID-19 protocol, the Navy said in a statement on Tuesday. Arrangements were being made to hand the fishermen over to the authorities concerned for legal action after rapid antigen tests, it added.

The fishing issue remains one of the most complicated unresolved issues between India and Colombo, as the latter often accuses Indian fishermen from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu of being regularly involved in illegally poaching in its territorial water. 

Any coercive action from Colombo stirs up passions in Tamil Nadu, where the issue dominates political discourse. 

On Monday, Jesu Raja, a fishermen union leader, told The Hindu, “The Union and State governments should immediately intervene and protect all the fishermen and bring back the trawlers. Until then, the fishermen will not venture into the sea.” 

He further refuted the claims of the Sri Lankan authorities that the fishermen crossed the international maritime boundary. M K Stalin, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, also spoke to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and sought his intervention to get the detained fishermen freed. 

Interestingly, the latest operations by the Sri Lankan Navy came days after it rescued two Sri Lankan fishing vessels that reportedly got damaged after colliding with Indian vessels. 

(SAM)

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