Sri Lanka has released two Indian fishing trawlers and 13 fishermen on Friday, even as a delegation of top officials for the region arrived here for talks on the fisheries issue.
The fishermen were apprehended off Trincomalee on January 11, the Navy said. “The trawlers were initially sighted at a location 14.2 nautical miles north-east of Pulmudai around 3.00pm on January 10. Due to intrusive behaviour, they were kept under surveillance by patrolling SLN vessels attached to the Eastern Naval Command. Having consistently observed the trawlers’ unwarranted movement towards land, they were taken into custody with 13 crew members on-board at a location 6.5 nautical miles east of Pulmudai on the morning of January 11, for wilfully trespassing on Sri Lankan waters,” the Navy said.
Working at an informal level, the Indian side and Sri Lankan side decided to release the fishermen, the Indian High Commission and the Sri Lankan Navy confirmed. The Indian fishing trawlers, now in Trincomalee Harbour, and the fishermen, under the care of the Indian High Commission, will leave as soon as local level coordination is completed.
Meanwhile, the much-postponed talks between the Indian and Sri Lankan sides on the Joint Working Group on Fisheries, will be held here on Saturday. Bilateral talks were last held in March 2011 in New Delhi.
Reviewing the progress on the bilateral talks, the Indian and Sri Lankan Foreign Ministers had “agreed that the use of force could not be justified under any circumstances and that all fishermen should be treated in a humane manner.” The two Foreign Ministers, in a joint statement after their last formal meeting “noted that the Joint Statement on Fishing Arrangements of October 26, 2008 had led to a decrease in violent incidents [of firing against Indian fishermen]. Furthermore, the two sides emphasised the importance of an early conclusion of the draft Memorandum of Understanding on Development and Cooperation in the field of Fisheries between India and Sri Lanka.”
In the past few weeks, there has been a marked improvement in relations between the two countries on this contentious issue. The Sri Lankan side has showed considerable flexibility and understanding in releasing fishermen who have strayed across the International Maritime Boundary Line, while the Indian External Affairs Ministry has told the Madras High Court that there were no instances of attack of Indian fishermen in Indian waters.
This is of particular importance since the Indian fishermen have almost always claimed that they were fishing in Indian waters when they were attacked by the Sri Lankan Navy. (Source: The Hindu)