The 21 Indian fishermen who were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy last month for allegedly poaching in the country’s territorial waters were released on the instructions from a magistrate court, officials said on Tuesday.
The Sri Lankan authorities will hand over the fishermen to the Indian Consulate after which they will be repatriated to India after completing all the necessary Covid-19 protocols.
On January 31, local Sri Lankan fishermen alerted the coastguard after two Indian boats were located off the coast of Point Pedro within the Sri Lankan side of the international waters. The Sri Lankan Navy confiscated their boats and remanded them in custody till February 21.
According to the Sri Lankan Navy, these arrests are part of their patrols to cut illegal fishing in the country’s waters to minimise the impact from poaching on the local fishermen and sustainability of fishery resources in Sri Lanka.
On Monday, the Point Pedro Magistrate Court ordered the release of the 21 Indian fishermen. “They were given 3-year jail terms suspended for 10 years while their two boats were ordered to be confiscated,” fisheries official J Sudakaran told PTI.
Last month, a Sri Lankan court ordered the release of 56 Indian fishermen who were detained for allegedly fishing in the island nation's territorial waters. The issue of fishermen remains contentious in the bilateral ties between India and Sri Lanka.
This issue had figured prominently in the talks between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Sri Lankan counterpart GL Peiris in New Delhi earlier this month. "Exchanged views on the fishermen issue and agreed that bilateral mechanisms should meet early. Recognised the importance of greater tourism for economic recovery. Also noted the importance of P2P linkages through greater connectivity," Jaishankar had said.
There have been several alleged incidents of Sri Lankan Navy personnel even firing at Indian fishermen in the Palk Strait and seizing their boats. The Palk Strait, which is a narrow strip of water separating Tamil Nadu from Sri Lanka, is a rich fishing ground for fishermen from both countries.
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