India, Sri Lanka agree to release fishermen held in each other's custody
Colombo, January 2, 2017
India and Sri Lanka agreed to the immediate release of fishermen in each other's custody following Ministerial talks between the two countries here today.
A press release from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said both sides agreed to a set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the release and handing over of fishermen in each other's custody on completion of legal and procedural formalities.
Indian Minister of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare Radha Mohan Singh met Sri Lankan Minister for Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Mahinda Amaraweera in this regard. The talks followed the first meeting of the Joint Working Group (JWG) on fisheries held in New Delhi on December 31.
The JWG, constituted in pursuance of the decision taken at the Ministerial meeting held in New Delhi on November 5, was co-chaired by Secretary (Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries), India and Secretary (Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development), Sri Lanka.
The Ministers exchanged views on possible mechanisms to help find a permanent solution to the fishermen's issues. The co-chairs of the JWG briefed the Ministers on the outcome of the first JWG meeting for consideration of the Ministers and further directions to take the process forward.
As part of the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) agreed to by both sides, it was decided to intensify cooperation on patrolling and to institute periodic interaction between the Coast Guards of the two countries. An understanding was reached to ensure that there was no physical harm or loss of life while apprehending fishermen by Navy and Coast Guard of the two countries.
It was agreed to explore the possibility of introducing effective tracking systems for the fishing vessels and making use of onboard communication equipment mandatory.
The Ministers appreciated the efforts taken by the JWG in operationalising the “hotline” between Indian and Sri Lankan Coast Guard, which would ensure quick decision making and response.
Both sides discussed the issue of releasing fishing vessels in each other’s custody. The Indian side requested for the immediate release of Indian fishing vessels. The Sri Lankan side agreed to consider the request in view of the progress being made by the JWG.
The Sri Lankan side reiterated that the practice of bottom trawling needs to end at the earliest. The Indian side assured that bottom trawling would be phased out in a graded time-bound manner within a practicable time frame keeping in mind the capacity building of the fishermen who have to be diversified into deep sea fishing as well as other coastal fisheries activities including mariculture, pearl farming, seaweed culture, and so on.
The Sri Lankan side was briefed about the measures already instituted including the decision to construct a new fishing harbour at Mookaiyur in Ramanathapuram district of Tamil Nadu, and the capacity building programme for Indian fishermen on deep sea fishing that commences tomorrow at Chennai and Kochi.
The next JWG meeting will be held in Colombo in April this year to review the progress made in addressing the fishermen issues in a comprehensive manner, the release added.