Zero Tolerance on Indian Fisher Poaching

CEYLON TODAY | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 22 2021

India should take aggressive steps to stop Indian fisher poaching to avert tragedies like that which took place on the Sri Lankan side of Palk Straits on Monday. In this respect, Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) in statements issued on Tuesday and Wednesday said that on the previous day Monday it rescued two allegedly poaching Indian fishermen who had been aboard a sunken Indian fishing boat on Sri Lankan waters, across the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL), northwest of the Kovilan Lighthouse. 

SLN’s ‘search and rescue’ operation retrieved the body of another fisherman who went missing immediately following the incident, it said. The incident took place when SLN units on patrol were engaged in chasing away Indian fishing trawlers poaching on Sri Lankan waters via the IMBL on Monday evening, SLN further said. However, one of the Indian fishing trawlers, made aggressive manoeuvres, resulting in it colliding with a SLN craft participating in the operation, resulting in the trawler losing its stability and sinking, the SLN statement added.

 SLN rescued two fishermen aboard the sunken fishing vessel soon after the incident. As one of SLN’s fast attack craft was damaged in the collision it has been brought to the Kankesanthurai Harbour for repairs, SLN said. The incident has been reported to the Indian authorities by the SLN and further investigation into the incident is currently underway, the SLN statement also said. 

Kovilan Lighthouse is located at the Karaitivu Island off the Jaffna Peninsula bordering the Sri Lankan side of Palk Strait, a Strait lucrative for fishing. The Sri Lankan Naval base at Karainagar is located on Karaitivu Island. Meanwhile, Indian fisher poaching on Sri Lankan waters exacerbated soon after the start of Sri Lanka’s LTTE terrorist war on 23 July 1983 when the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) restricted Sri Lankan fishers from fishing on the waters off the coasts of the Northern and Eastern (N&E) Provinces in particular, for security reasons. 

The then security concerns of the Sri Lankan authorities revolved round the free and illegal movement of armed LTTE terrorists to and fro from Sri Lanka to India, which movements were induced for military training purposes in training camps located in India, the illegal ferrying of defence stores and other supplies from India to Sri Lanka, the threat posed to shipping, both military and civilian, on Sri Lankan waters by such terrorists and also the security threat on Sri Lanka as a whole by them. But after the signing of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord (ILPA) on 29 July 1987, India’s covert and overt support to LTTE terrorism ceased as all other Tamil terrorist groups other than the LTTE and EROS, eschewed terrorism and joined the democratic process. 

Post ILPA, the EROS merged with the LTTE and disappeared as a separate terror organisation. Nonetheless, covert support, post ILPA, for LTTE terrorism continued from certain sections in the State of Tamil Nadu (TN) with or without the knowledge of the TN State Government. Further, the LTTE began to procure illegal arms shipments from elsewhere other than from India, post ILPA. 

Hence, the continuation of fishing restrictions off the N&E waters of Sri Lanka even post ILPA to the advantage of Indian fishers, particularly those from TN. But after the LTTE killed Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi in TN on 21 May 1991, India banned the LTTE and whatever overt and covert support extended by the TN State Government to the LTTE till then, also ceased. 

However, illegal ferrying of supplies to the LTTE from TN continued even after the LTTE ban by India and military operations of the LTTE’s illegal naval outfit known as the Sea Tigers struck terror on shipments, particularly those which were military by nature, such as the movement of Sri Lankan troops to and fro from the ‘North and the East’ to the ‘South’ by sea, coupled with illegal arms shipments to the LTTE other than from India, compelled the Sri Lankan authorities to continue to extend fishing restrictions for local fishers off the N&E coasts of the island. 

However, with the end of the LTTE war on 18 May 2009, Sri Lankan waters were once more fully open for business for Sri Lankan fishers. But while fishing off the coasts of the North and the East were restricted for local fishers for a period of 26 years from 23 July 1983 to 18 May 2009, the vacuum caused by such restrictions were filled by illegal TN fishers, fishing in particular in the lucrative North-West waters off Sri Lanka comprising the Mannar Basin and the Sri Lanka side of Palk Strait – where Monday’s incident took place. 

Therefore, respecting Sri Lanka’s territorial rights, the Indian authorities should aggressively pursue a policy of unconditionally checking Indian fisher poaching. Indian fisher poaching should not be entertained on a quid pro quo basis by GoSL either, whatever that may be, political or economic. GoSL should not ‘run with the hare and hunt with the hounds’ vis-à-vis Indian fisher poaching.

CEYLON TODAY | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 22 2021

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