GoSL under pressure to allow poaching

Fifty six TN fishermen, eight boats freed in Jan.


By Shamindra Ferdinando

The government is under heavy Indian pressure to turn a blind eye to poaching by the Tamil Nadu fishing fleet not only in the Palk Bay but in Sri Lanka’s eastern territorial waters as well. India strongly opposes those arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy being produced in court, The Island learns.

In the wake of the arrest of 43 poachers along with their six trawlers east of Mullaitivu on Tuesday (Jan. 24) by the SLN, India intervened to secure their release. The SLN brought them to Trincomalee the following day and handed them over to Trincomalee harbour police for further action.

Responding to a query by The Island, sources said that the prosecution of those arrested in Sri Lankan waters would perhaps be the only tangible action available to discouraging large scale poaching. Unfortunately, the government couldn’t act against them in line with domestic law due to Indian interference, they said.

The 43 fishermen were handed over to a representative of the Indian High Commission following a directive given by Trincomalee Magistrate’s Court. They were accommodated at the YMCA in Trincomalee, pending the SLN and Indian Coast Guard making arrangements for their repatriation. Unlike on previous occasions, the handing over of the six boats and the fishermen wouldn’t take place at the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary, but in Sri Lankan waters, sources said. The Indian Coast Guard would move into Sri Lankan waters for this purpose, sources said.

However, the Court directed that their catch be handed over to the Fisheries Department for sale and the money sent to the Consolidated Fund.

Tuesday’s seizure was the second this month followed by the arrest of 13 fishermen along with two trawlers 6.5 nautical miles east of Pulmoddai on Jan. 11 for what the SLN called willfully trespassing in Sri Lankan waters.The government released them as a goodwill gesture ahead of high level talks in Colombo on Jan.14 to settle the poaching issue. Sources alleged that India was pushing for an unprecedented one-sided Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to share the Palk Bay.

Authoritative sources said that such an arrangement wasn’t acceptable under any circumstances. They likened the Indian proposal to having a joint timetable for private bus fleet comprising over 17,500 buses and the SLTB, which operated about 5,000 buses.

Former Indian President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, during a recently concluded four-day visit to Sri Lanka suggested Sri Lanka’s northern fishermen share the Palk Bay with their Indian counterparts. Sources pointed out that the politician had echoed the MoU, which had been already rejected by the government.

It would be a grave mistake on Sri Lanka’s part to accept a common fishing ground due to sharp difference in the size and capacity of the two fishing fleets, sources said adding that since the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009, the Indian fishing fleet had stepped up operations across the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary, in spite of efforts on the part of the SLN.

Former SLN chief Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe told the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) that an effective mechanism was needed to secure local waters from poachers. During the Galle Dialogue 2011, Eastern Commander Rear Admiral JSK Colombage made an exhaustive presentation on the impact and challenges faced by countries due to illegal, unreported and un-regulated fishing.

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