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Fishermen Ecstatic, but Seek Relief for Boat Damage

Published: 13th February 2015 05:57 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th February 2015 05:57 AM   |  A+A-

COLOMBO: Indian fishermen leaders and owners of the 87 fishing vessels detained by Sri Lanka, were ecstatic when they learnt that the boats were going to be released this week on the orders of Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena. But they are concerned about the state of the boats, which might have suffered decay and damage due to months of neglect, and are seeking compensation from the Indian and Lankan governments.

“I am extremely happy to hear about the release. From the bottom of my heart, I thank the Sri Lankan President for it. But I fear that 47 of the 87 boats may have suffered severe damage as they have been in water for months, some for eight months. Their owners need to be compensated by the authorities,” said U Arulanandam, a veteran fishermen leader from Rameswaram.

The Director General of Fisheries, Nimal Hettiarachchi, said on Thursday that on the instructions of President Sirisena, the Attorney General had sent word to the courts dealing with the boats’ case, that he had no objection to their release. The courts at Kayts, Mannar, Point Pedro and Trincomalee were expected to order their release on Thursday.

According to another fishermen leader, Devadas, 30 to 32 boats are unusable.

“Returning these damaged boats will not bring much relief to the owners, who are already in a bad way economically. Many have been working as coolies or doing odd jobs in the fishing industry for the last several months,”  Devadas told Express over phone.

He said that he had met Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj in connection with this problem and she told him that compensation was possible. The TN government had also promised to pitch in, he added.  

Boat owner Ramesh said that since the loss of his boat, he had sunk deeper into debt with a cumulative debt of `15 lakh. “I had pawned my wife’s gold jewelry and am unable to retrieve it,” he said.  Ramesh has no idea about the condition of his boat. “If it is not in a usable condition, I will not take it,” he said.

Boat owner Sekaram said that he was “very happy” to learn about the release but wondered what condition his boat was in. “We have asked for compensation from our government. Hope we will get it,” he said.

Jesuraja, a mechanised boat owner, said that the Indian and Lankan governments should now take the next step and re-start talks between the fishermen of the two countries. Talks might be held in Chennai on March 5. “The fishermen of the two countries should be able to fish in the same area without harming each other’s livelihood,” Jesuraja said.

He also suggested that the two governments should join together to compensate the fishermen who had lost their boats and were reduced to penury. “Each of the lost boats would have cost `15 to 25 lakh,” he pointed out.

Colombo’s decision to release the vessels was dictated by President Sirisena’s  desire to have friendly relations with India, and to retrieve bilateral ties from the abyss it had fallen into during the Presidency of his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa. Furthermore, Sirisena is to begin a three-day trip to India on February 15, his first official visit to any country since he took over in January. The release of the 87 Indian boats should pave the way for smooth talks with Indian PMNarendra Modi at New Delhi.

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