Colombo/Chennai: As many as 126 Indian fishermen, arrested on the charge of poaching in Sri Lankan waters, were today repatriated by Indian Coast Guard after being released by the neighbouring island nation government. Despite inclement weather, the fishermen from Tamil Nadu were swiftly repatriated from two locations on International Maritime Boundary Line onboard two ships and later handed over to state authorities, a Coast Guard release said in Chennai.
It said the fishermen, detained by Lankan Navy in batches in the recent past, were healthy and all assistance was provided to them. A report from Rameswaram said a total of 48 fishermen belonging to the island reached the shore around 6 pm and were accorded a warm reception by their family members. The 78 other fishermen hailing from Nagapattinam and Pudukottai distrcits were sent in a ship to Karaikal, near Nagapattinam, it said quoting Fisheries department officials.
Earlier in Colombo, Navy spokesman Akram Alavi said 78 of the fishermen were handed over to Indian coast Guard vessels ‘Sagar’ ‘Raj Kamal’ off Kankesanthurai and Talaimamnar respectively.
Sri Lanka and India had agreed to release fishermen in mutual custody following talks between the authorities. Lankan Fisheries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said that although the fishermen will be released their equipment will remain confiscated. The Coast Guard also said Indian fishermen were being “regularly advised” by them not to cross the IMBL “for the sake of their own safety and welfare and also not to indulge in any kind of illegal activities.”
Fishermen violating each other’s territorial waters has become a thorny issue in the Indo-Lanka relations. Sri Lanka accuses Indian fishermen of straying into its territorial waters, while the latter maintain they are only fishing in their traditional areas, especially around Katchatheevu, an islet ceded to Colombo in 1974.
Holding that ceding of Katchatheevu was the root cause of the problem, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has repeatedly pressed for revisiting the agreements under which the islet was given to Sri Lanka.
The two countries have held top ministerial level talks in this regard besides fishermen-level dialogue and the issue even figured during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka early this year.