India, Sri Lanka decide to release fishermen in custody

Colombo, Jan 2 (IANS) India and Sri Lanka on Monday announced the immediate release of fishermen in each other’s custody.

The announcement followed talks between Indian Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh and Sri Lankan Minister for Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Mahinda Amaraweera here.

Both sides agreed to a set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to expedite the release and handing over of fishermen in each other’s custody on completion of legal and procedural formalities.

“The immediate release of the fishermen presently in custody was announced following the ministerial level talks,” an official statement said.

Sri Lanka routinely arrests Indian fishermen poaching in its waters and seizes their vessels. The two countries are divided by a narrow strip of sea. Some Sri Lankan fishermen are also detained in Indian jails.

The talks follow the first meeting of the Joint Working Group (JWG) on fisheries held in New Delhi on December 31.

Both countries also discussed the issue of releasing seized fishing vessels.

“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 statement said.

The ministers exchanged views on possible mechanisms to help find a permanent solution to issues related to fishermen from both countries.

As part of the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) agreed to by them, it was decided to intensify cooperation on patrolling and to set up periodic interactions between their Coast Guards.

“An understanding was reached to ensure that there was no physical harm or loss of life while apprehending fishermen by Navy and Coast Guard… 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 statement said.

The two ministers appreciated the efforts taken by the JWG in operationalizing a hotline between the Indian and Sri Lankan Coast Guards to ensure quick decision making.

Sri Lanka sought an end to bottom trawling which Colombo says is destroying its aquatic resources. India promised it would be phased out in a time-bound manner.

Sri Lanka was briefed about the measures already taken including the decision to construct a new fishing harbour at Mookaiyur in Ramanathapuram in Tamil Nadu and the capacity building programme for Indian fishermen on deep sea fishing.

The next JWG meeting will be held in Colombo in April 2017.

–IANS

ao/mr/ksk

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