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Sri Lanka & India Fishing Dispute Talks

SRI LANKA and INDIA - Sri Lanka and India will hold talks on resolving a fishing dispute which escalated after the end of a 30-year war, when a joint working group meets in January.

LankaBusinessOnline reports that fisheries minister Rajitha Senaratne said Sri Lanka will hold talks with an Indian delegation made up of state and central government officials on 13 and 14 January in the second such round of discussions.

India's foreign, fisheries and defence ministries and navy will be in the delegation, minister Senaratne said. Representatives from the states of Tamil Nadu, Andra Pradesh will also be represented.

"It is not only Tamil Nadu. Our fishermen are being arrested in Andra Pradesh, especially in Vishakapatnam, Orissa and Andaman Islands," he said.

"When they are arrested in Andaman Islands we have to deal with the central government, and the paper work takes a long time."

Sri Lankan fishermen are often arrested by Indian authorities. When Senaratne took over the ministry in 2010 there were 779 fishermen in Indian jails which were now down to 22 he said.

"We have reduced incidents of encroaching into India waters by educating fishermen," he said.

Senaratne said an upcoming installation of a vessel monitoring system with transponders fitted to the Sri Lanka fleet will further reduce cases of boats straying into Indian waters.

LankaBusinessOnline states that Sri Lankan authorities rarely arrest Indian fishing boats. After the end of a 30-year war in 2009 Sri Lanka's Navy started cracking down of poaching in Sri Lankan waters which were mostly closed to Sri Lankan fishermen during the war.

Tamil Nadu in particular has accused Sri Lanka of firing upon unarmed fishermen, a charge denied by Sri Lanka. There have been other claims of Indian fishermen being pelted with stones.

Sri Lankan authorities estimate that sometime about 1,000 fishing boats slip into Sri Lankan waters after dark in a organised fashion, but is has reduced by about a third now.

Sri Lankan authorities claim there are over 260 factories in Tamil Nadu which export fish to Europe, with many fishing vessels trawling in the island's waters.

Fishermen in Sri Lanka's north, an area that has been ravaged by war and fishing restrictions do not have large multi-day boats.

Minister Senaratne said the whole of Jaffna has only three multi day boats, and the ministry is encouraging the purchase of larger boats. Counting Mannar there were now 15 multi-day boats in the north.

There were about 6,000 small mainly single person boats with outboard motors which was the fleet in the area.

Senaratne said Indians boat engaged in bottom trawling in Sri Lankan waters which was banned. A senior Indian coast guard official had also acknowledged that, he said.

Recent bouts of bad weather had left several of the 'poaching' Indian fishing vessels damaged and drifting or run aground off Sri Lanka's coast, Sri Lanka's Navy said.

On 26 December, the Navy said it rescued six Indian fishermen when their boat Periya Naheem Matha with registration number TN/06/MFB/1054. It was found drifting off the coast of Vettileikerni with a damaged propeller shaft after poaching in Sri Lankan waters, the Navy said.

On 25 December the boat 'Ratta' with registration number TN/08/FRPV/834 and one person on board had run aground "whilst poaching in Sri Lankan waters closer to the rocky shoreline off Delft" island, the Navy said. On 20 December, the Navy said its vessel SLNS Wasaba rescued 12 Indian fishermen when their trawlers ran aground off Delft Island, and SLNS Elara rescued six Indian fishermen ff Analative Island on the same day.

"The Navy rescued the fishermen in distress and provided them food and medical assistance after bringing them to safety," the Navy said. "These trawlers were poaching in Sri Lankan waters when they ran aground in the Northern seas."

On 19 December, the Navy said it had rescued four fishermen, off Delft.

"The boat with four Indian fishermen onboard was drifted ashore being caught in the rough sea conditions," the Navy said. "It had run aground and been partly sunk when the Navy promptly arrived on the scene and rescued the lives of four Indian fishermen."

The Navy said that contrary to "allegations that the Sri Lanka Navy unleashes violence on Indian fishermen" it had "always come to the rescue of Indian fishermen who were in distress in Sri Lanka waters."

Lucy Towers

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