Sri Lanka will seek fresh diplomatic engagements with India to secure what is termed ‘an innocent passage’ through its territorial waters for Sri Lankan fishermen to enter the Arabian Sea for multi-day fisheries, a minister said.

Currently, Sri Lankan multi- day fishing vessels taking to the sea from areas like Negambo, Dikovita, Beruwila and Matara voyage around the Maldives to reach the Arabian Sea. However, a passage through India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) will save them 400 nautical miles. There are instances in which Sri Lankan fishermen get arrested by the Indian Coast Guard when they unlawfully enter India’s EEZ on the way to the Arabian Sea.

India – Sri Lanka bilateral relations have reached new heights after India extended humanitarian assistance during the economic crisis. The amount of financial assistance extended by India is nearly US $ 4 billion. It included a US $ 1 billion credit line offered to purchase essential food items and pharmaceuticals. Sri Lanka is now planning to secure this passage using the goodwill between the two countries.

Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda told that the government is to ask for India’s support to secure a passage through its EEZ for Sri Lankan fishing vessels.

“It will be discussed when President Ranil Wickremesinghe visits New Delhi later this month,” he said.

Asked about unlawful fishing in the Sri Lankan waters by fishermen from the southern part of India, the minister said it continues unabated and the government is trying to resolve it through diplomatic means.

“We are planning to get it resolved through diplomatic means. When President Wickremesinghe visits New Delhi, he is planning to discuss it . Besides, we need to brief Tamil Nadu people about our fisheries issue. We are planning to arrange a visit by a group of Tamil MPs from the north to Tamil Nadu to brief the chief minister, the opposition leader and others concerned that bottom trawling by their fishermen has affected the livelihood of our fishermen. Otherwise, it is not an issue involving the Sri Lankan Navy and Tamil Nadu fishermen. In Tamil Nadu, perception is that the Sri Lankan Navy creates problems for their fishermen,” he said.

Responding to a query about the damage done to fishing gear of the local fisheries community because of bottom trawling, he said it had been estimated at Rs.700 million for the last five years.

“The impact of denial of livelihood for local fishermen can even be higher. When they (South Indian fishermen) net a kilo of shrimps from Sri Lankan waters using illegal fishing methods, there is a by-catch of 18 kilos. The damage in terms of by catch is immeasurable,” he said. 

source daily mirror