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State must also act to protect fishermen: Coast Guard

Complaints of Tamil fishermen being attacked by the Sri Lankan Navy could be brought down only if the State government brings in stricter regulations preventing the fishermen from crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL), according to V.S.R. Murthy, Deputy Director General (Operations and Coastal Security), Indian Coast Guard (ICG).

Filing a counter affidavit in reply to a public interest litigation petition before the Madras High Court Bench here, the DDG said Gujarat had declared an area of five Nautical Miles along the Indo-Pak IMBL as ‘No Fishing Zone' besides instituting strict punitive measures against defaulters. A similar system must be put in place for Indo-Sri Lanka IMBL to avoid illegal cross-border fishing, he said.

The ICG had deployed one ship, two Interceptor Boats, two Air Cushion Vehicles and two Interceptor Crafts as a matter of routine in the Palk Bay. Regular air surveillance was carried out by the ICG aircraft along the IMBL. The Navy too had deployed a ship and an aircraft for round-the-clock surveillance. The deployment was increased further pursuant to interim orders passed by the court on October 14.

“Even after deploying so many assets in Palk Bay, the Indian fishermen never called for assistance through marine communication systems (VHF) whenever they came under attack, despite being a mandatory international practice to call for assistance through VHF. It is pertinent to state that most of the Indian trawlers carry VHF set,” Mr. Murthy said.

He went on to state: “No Sri Lankan vessel can intrude into the Indian waters as the same will amount to contravention of the legal treaties of years 1974 and 1976. The prevention of such intrusion is also ensured by the ICG and the Indian Navy ships patrolling along the IMBL. Hence, it is inferred that the alleged attacks on the Indian fishermen had taken place only in the Sri Lankan waters.

“The fisheries law of Government of Sri Lanka prohibits use of bottom trawling and monofilament nets whereas the Tamil Nadu fishermen crossing IMBL make use of these bottom trawl nets and monofilament nets during fishing in the Sri Lankan waters. This further multiplies the offence of poaching by Indian trawlers as they are involved in an activity which is banned in Sri Lanka. “The poaching by Indian fishers and usage of banned fishing gear have raised the issue of over-exploitation of fisheries resources in the Sri Lankan side of Palk Bay, besides challenging the sovereign right of the country over their waters. The ICG has information from the Indian mission in Colombo about Indian fishing boats poaching inside Sri Lankan waters.”

According to the information received, 17,102 Indian fishing boats were poaching in the Sri Lankan waters between June and October. Further, 1,482 boats were involved in cross-border fishing (between October 28 and November 4) even after stepping up of surveillance in the Palk Bay area as per interim directions issued by the Bench.

“The cross-border fishing reports as received from Sri Lankan authorities have been forwarded to the Tamil Nadu Government. Despite giving ample documentary details of erring Indian fishing boats to the State authorities, cross-border fishing continues…,” he said.

The case has been adjourned to December 8. (Source: The Hindu)

Source Daily Mirror - Thursday, 17th November 2011