18 fishermen freed by Lankan court

Rameswaram: Eighteen fishermen who were detained earlier this month for allegedly poaching in Sri Lankan waters have been released, according to officials.

The fishermen, arrested on February 7 off the coast of the Delft islet in Jaffna, Northern Sri Lanka, were freed by the magistrate in Jaffna on Thursday.

However, two boat drivers involved in the illegal fishing operation were sentenced to six months imprisonment, and their boats were ordered to be confiscated.

The released fishermen had pleaded guilty during their court appearance. The magistrate’s ruling included their repatriation with assistance from the Sri Lankan Navy and the Indian Deputy High Commission office in Jaffna.

This development follows a protest launched on February 20 by the Northern Fisher Organisations in front of the Indian Deputy High Commission office in Jaffna.

The protest aimed to urge intervention to halt illegal fishing activities by Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan waters. Representatives from seven fisher organizations presented their requests to the Indian Deputy High Commissioner in the presence of local police, who were providing security during the demonstration.

Notably, last month, a Sri Lankan court sentenced ten Indian fishermen to a two-year suspended prison term for poaching in the island nation’s waters. Such incidents of Indian fishermen crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line and fishing in Sri Lankan waters have been sporadic. This month alone, more than 40 Indian fishermen were arrested by the Sri Lanka Navy.

In 2023, the Sri Lankan Navy arrested 240 Indian fishermen along with 35 trawlers for alleged poaching in Sri Lankan waters, indicating a recurring issue in the region’s maritime domain.

The release of the eighteen fishermen marks a diplomatic effort to address the longstanding tensions surrounding fishing rights in the region. However, the issue remains complex, requiring sustained cooperation and dialogue between India and Sri Lanka to ensure the sustainable use of marine resources and the livelihoods of local fishermen.