Poaching Indian fishers turn violent, attack Navy personnel in SL waters



… attackers among 25 arrested along with two trawlers

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Poaching Indian fishers on Saturday night (Dec 09) caused injuries to two sailors in Sri Lankan waters off Point Pedro.

Authoritative sources said that Indian fishers attacked them with sticks and then threw boiling water in a bid to thwart SLN boarding one of the poaching vessels. Two Navy personnel had to be admitted to hospital following the incident, sources said, adding that the Indian fishing fleet reacted aggressively to recent arrests in the northern seas.

Responding to queries, sources said that Indian trawlers engaged in dangerous maneuovers close to SLN vessels to discourage them from coming closer to poaching trawlers. Sources said that the SLN was taking countermeasures in line with overall measures to curb illegal fishing, which is increasingly depriving local fishermen of their catch.

Asked whether those who had been involved in the attack on the sailors were taken into custody, sources said that in spite of the incident, SLN managed to take two trawlers and 25 fishers into custody. The arrested included those who attacked the sailors, sources said. “Two of them jumped overboard and at one time we feared the worst. Fortunately, they were rescued.”

Sources acknowledged that the developing situation couldn’t be tackled by firing warning shots. It would be the responsibility of India to prevent large-scale crossing of the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary almost on a daily basis, sources said, alleging that Tamil Nadu seemed to have stepped up poaching.

Those who had been apprehended, along with the poaching trawlers, were handed over to the Mailadi Fisheries Inspector at the Kankesanthurai harbor for legal action.

Navy headquarters said that so far this year 33 Indian poaching trawlers had been taken into custody along with 220 fishers.

The Fisheries Ministry said that the government in October this year requested UN intervention to prevent continuing poaching here by the large Indian fishing fleet.

Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda made the request on behalf of the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government. A statement issued by the Fisheries Ministry on 16 Oct., quoted Devananda as having told UN Resident Coordinator in Colombo Marc-André Franche that the invasion of Sri Lankan waters was a serious problem.

The UN veteran, who had served in Libya as Resident Representative of the UN Development Programme before taking over the top job here, was quoted as having assured that the issue would be looked into and brought to the notice of New Delhi. Similarly about two years ago Devananda raised the issue with the US Embassy here, but there has been no favourable result to date.

Sources said that India would have to be apprised of the developing situation and unless tangible measures were taken to rein in the poaching fleet untoward incidents could happen. In response to the new situation, SLN has strengthened patrols and issued instructions on how to handle sudden developments.

Meanwhile, sources said that the fisheries communities in the northern and eastern regions found fault with the government for not taking sufficient measures to discourage poaching by the Indian fleet. The government should take up this matter at the highest level, sources said, adding that India couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility of thwarting organized violation of the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary.

Sometimes quite large clusters of trawlers move very close to land creating an extremely hostile environment, sources said.

Asked whether the latest developments had been brought to the notice of the Indian High Commission in Colombo, sources said that the outgoing High Commissioner Gopal Baglay undertook a three-day visit to Northern Province from 29 November to 1 December 2023.

Baglay donated deep freezers to 15 fishermen’s cooperatives in the Jaffna region. Interacting with representatives of the cooperatives at Pasaiyoor, the High Commissioner assured that India strived to bring benefits of scientific research and expertise for commercially sustainable development of fisheries in Sri Lanka, including in the Northern Province, so that the benefits could directly reach the fishermen and the common people.

But, unfortunately, India continued to ignore the situation caused by large scale continuing invasion of Sri Lankan waters by its well organized fishing fleet in hundreds of vessels, sources said.