NAGAPATTINAM/KARAIKAL/PUDUCHERRY:After three years of silence and peace — even if fragile — Sri Lankan Navy personnel opened fire on a group of fishermen from here when they were fishing off Kodiyakarai on Wednesday. Two fishermen, hailing from Nagapattinam and Karaikal respectively, were injured and the boat they were on was damaged in the incident.
According to sources, the injured fishermen, Dinesh alias Balamurugan (21) from Karaikal and Aravindhan (22), from Nagapattinam, set out into the sea on Sunday along with seven others on a mechanised boat owned by Chelladurai of Karaikal. While they were fishing South-east off Kodiyakkarai in the wee hours on Wednesday, Lankan navy personnel surrounded them and warned them to go back, saying they had crossed the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL). Subsequently, they opened fire on the fishermen and chased them away. “We tried to escape but the current was against us and they opened fire,” said Aravindhan.
In order to escape gunshots, the fishing crew that came under attack off Kodiyakarai ran inside the boat and hid in the cabin. However, Balamurugan and Aravindhan received bullet shots and the windshield of the cabin was shattered. However, all the fishermen managed to escape and arrived at the Karaikal fishing harbour around 3 am on Thursday. The injured duo was taken to Karaikal GH for first-aid and later shifted to the Puducherry GH.
According to hospital sources, bullets had penetrated Aravindhan’s neck and pelvic region, while Dinesh suffered injuries on the shoulder and neck. “Nine of us were fishing peacefully when about 20 men dressed in Sri Lankan navy uniform asked us to stop. We were scared and tried to speed away but they chased us and pelted stones and opened fire at us,”Aravindhan said.
The duo said they could inform the boat owner Chelladurai only around 10 pm on Wednesday as there was no signal on their mobile phones. Chelladurai was waiting at the harbour with an ambulance and took them to the Karaikal GH for first aid.
Recalling the horror, Aravindhan continued, “We hid ourselves in the cabin and increased the boat speed to 14 knots to get out of SL navy’s reach but the weather and sea current were against us and it was when the Navy opened fire.”
While Aravindhan fell unconscious shortly after the incident, the remaining crew managed to arrest blood loss by tightly strapping cloth against the wounds. The boat had nothing other than a few pain killer tablets for first aid, Balamurgan said and added they tried to locate Indian Navy for help but in vain.
“Without assistance, the fishermen were left to fend for themselves for more than 20 hours. "We were aware of the coastal security toll free number 1093, but we assumed that since the weather was rough, they wouldn’t be able to help us,” said Balamurugan, who has resumed fishing after returning from Singapore two months ago. Further, he alleged that Sri Lankan navy seized Global Positioning Systems, walkie talkies, and had cast the catch back into the sea.
Puducherry Minister for Agriculture, R Kamalakkannan, Minister for Health and Fisheries, Malladi Krishna Rao, Tamil Nadu ministers, C V Shanmugam and M C Sampath, were among those who visited the injured fishermen at the hospital. Karaikal Fisheries Joint Director Nadesa Pillai,
Karaikal Indian Coast Guard (ICG) Station Commandant S N M Patnaik inspected the boat.
Reacting to the development, M Ilango, Chairperson of National Fishworkers’ Forum said, “The incident has happened barely 10 days after high level officials of both nations met in New Delhi and released a joint declaration which said both countries had agreed agreed to stop firing at fishermen from both sides. It only shows that the meeting was a failure and the declaration was just an eyewash. The Indian government should immediately call the Sri Lankan Ambassador and express its condemnation. Tomorrow (Friday) Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry Fisher People Federation and Pondicherry Fishworkers Forum will jointly stage a protest at Jantar Mantar to condemn the firing.”
Echoing his view, general secretary of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry Fishermen’s Association N J Bose said The action of the Sri Lankan navy was condemnable. “The Sri Lankan government must apologise to the Indian Government over the incident,” he added.