PUDUKKOTTAI: The death of a fisherman from Kottaipattinam in Pudukkottai after he allegedly strayed into Sri Lankan waters brings back a question to the fore – why do these fishermen venture into those waters? The instances of Indians being arrested, and in some cases killed, in Sri Lankan waters have risen over the past few years.
Since 2009, Sri Lanka has tightened security along the International Maritime Boundary Line. In January, four fishermen from Ramanathapuram were returned dead by the Lankan authorities. A week ago, as many as 23 fishermen from Nagapattinam were detained by Sri Lanka for reportedly crossing the border. On Monday, a fisherman named Rajkiran died after his boat was intercepted by Sri Lankan Navy, and two others, Suganthan and Xavier, were detained.
According to fishermen in Pudukkottai and Kottaipattinam, they have about 40 nautical miles for fishing. There are 290 mechanised trawlers in Kottaipattinam and 139 in Jegadapattinam. The 28 other villages in Pudukkottai use traditional non-mechanised boats to ply their trade.
For decades, Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen used to fish in each other’s waters without problems. The maritime boundary agreements were signed between 1974 and 1976 and there wasn’t much conflict after that. Problems began post 2009, officials said, as the island nation tightened vigilance in the sea.
Two major reasons quoted by fishermen for venturing into the border area are high diesel cost and availability of good catch. Fishermen venture into sea on mechanised trawlers and spend more than 24 hours on the waters.
“We have been using mechanised boats since 1976. Earlier, we had lots of fish available in and around our area. As more fishermen and boats have come in, we don’t get enough catch. That is why we sometimes move close to the border. Since 2000, availability of fish has also gone down. Our area is also very small. We spend almost Rs 40,000 a day for one boat. Don’t we need to get enough catch to recover that cost?” asked Mohamed Ali, a fisherman.
Increased cost of fuel – diesel – is also a major factor as fishermen get diesel at Rs 85 a litre. “We use 350-500 litres of diesel a day, depending on the speed of the boat. Enough fish and prawn are not available in the limited area allotted to us. Atrocities by Sri Lankan side have been going on for almost 30 years,” said Murgesh, a fisherman leader from Kottaipattinam.
Another reason, according to officials, is the Palk Strait having good quality catch. “Prawn, crab, pomfret and squid are main exports in Pudukkottai. If they don’t get enough quantity, they move closer to the Sri Lankan side. Also, the water is calmer in the Palk Strait,” a fisheries official said.