New Delhi conveys ‘strong protest’ to Colombo over death of Indian fishermen in Palk Strait

India’s stand was conveyed to Sri Lankan Foreign Minister.

India conveyed its “strong protest” to Sri Lanka on Thursday over the death of four Tamil Nadu fishermen in the Palk Strait after their fishing boat reportedly collided with a Sri Lankan Navy patrol boat.

“Our strong protest was conveyed by our High Commissioner to the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister today. A strong démarche was also made to the Sri Lankan Acting High Commissioner in New Delhi,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in New Delhi.

Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “I have written to the Prime Minister insisting that an appropriate inquiry be initiated into the incident through the High Commission of India,” he said. He sanctioned ₹10 lakh each in solatium to the bereaved families. One member of each family would be given a government or government-related job.

DMK president M.K. Stalin demanded that Mr. Modi condemn the Sri Lankan government for the incident and sought a compensation of ₹5 crore for each of the families. Mr. Stalin alleged that while India’s External Affairs Minister recently said he had raised the issue of freeing Indian fishermen held in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan government was not respecting India or its government.

Fishermen staged protests in parts of the State condemning the incident.

The development comes days after four fishermen from Tamil Nadu, who ventured into the Palk Strait on Monday, were reported missing. The Sri Lankan Navy said their boat “sank” while “resisting arrest” by the Sri Lankan patrol units that tried to seize the Indian fishing trawler for allegedly fishing in Sri Lankan waters. The Sri Lankan Navy’s divers recovered two bodies on Wednesday and two more on Thursday, reportedly of the missing fishermen.

Once officials at the Indian Consulate-General in Jaffna identify the bodies, further action will be taken, based on the directives of the magistrate court and judicial medical officers, Sri Lankan Navy officials said. “There are also COVID-19 protocols to be followed. We will take necessary steps accordingly,” Navy spokesman Indika de Silva told The Hindu.

“We are shocked at the unfortunate loss of lives of three Indian fishermen and one Sri Lankan national following a collision between their vessel and a Sri Lankan naval craft,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in a strongly worded statement. “Expressing our deep anguish at the loss of lives, we emphasised the need to deal with issues pertaining to fishermen in a humanitarian manner. Existing understandings between the two governments in that regard must be strictly observed. Utmost efforts should be made to ensure that there is no recurrence,” it said.

Though fishermen’s arrests are regularly discussed at bilateral meetings, the last time the matter escalated was in 2017, when Rameswaram fisherman K. Britjo died of a bullet injury in the Palk Strait. While Tamil Nadu fishermen said he was shot dead by the Sri Lankan Navy, the Sri Lankan Navy denied the charge. The Government of India had sought a full investigation then.

(With inputs from Tamil Nadu Bureau)

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