An IIPM Initiative
Monday, December 9, 2019

Fishing community: No one's child


Tags : Italian cargo shooting | LTTE | Sri Lankan Navy | Exclusive Economic Zone |IMBL |Mullivaikkal |

The killing of the two Indian fishermen by security gaurds of Italian cargo vessel Enrica Lexie, after being mistaken for pirates near Kochi port, adds to the never ending plight of the fishermen community.

As the harresmant of fishermen continues unabated, the Indian establishment is way short of taking what can be called concrete and proactive measures to ensure their security. Each case, like the present one, hits headlines for a few days amid growing public fury and disapproval, and is then eclipsed by a nauseating 'law-will-take-its-own-course' syndrome.

Look at Tamil Nadu for example. Around 400 Tamil fishermen have been shot dead by Sri Lankan naval personnel so far because they were allegedly smuggling goods for the LTTE.

After the Mullivaikkal showdown between the LTTE and Sri Lankan military in May 2009 that ended with complete annihilation of the former the Sri Lankan naval personnel had stopped targeting Tamil fishermen. But after a brief lull the Lankan navy again started attacking Indian fishermen with stones and other lethal weapons.

More often than not, they were detained and their fishing nets were damaged. Sri Lanka government accuses fishermen of sishing in their sea limit.

“There are 800 mechanised mega boats in Rameshwaram alone and around 200 boats use banned fishing gear. They cross the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) and over-exploit the fisheries resources in the Sri Lankan side of Palk Bay. This has been happening for the last 30 years. But it didn't create much problem since due to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka as its fishermen were off the sea till recently.  So, now how can we expect them to be silent spectators? We can solve this problem if our government officers behave strictly with our fishermen and prevent them from entering into Sri Lankan sea," said NJ Bose, general secretary, Tamil Nadu Coastal Mechanised Boats Fishermen Association, Rameswaram.

But, unfortunately, sometimes fishermen in small traditional boats also got shot dead when their boats crossed International Maritime Boundary Line because of strong winds.

“Since fish population in Indian waters is less, our fishermen go beyond IMBL and it affects Sri Lankan fishermen adversely. Sri Lankan fishermen had requested their Tamil Nadu counterparts to fish in their waters but it went unheeded. Even in India, first three nautical miles from the shore has been banned for mechanised boats and only small traditional boats can fish there," said M Karunamoorthy, Rameswaram taluk secretary of the federation of fishermen associations affiliated to Central Indian Trade Union.

Kerala's experience has been no better. When international laws were unknown, fishermen did not bother about anything like border, territorial waters, etc. Later on they switched over to mechanised boats from their traditional country boats. These boats facilitated more coverage. Occasionally, they might have entered into territorial waters of Sri Lanka.

However, it is noteworthy that the latest case can safely be called a case of indiscriminate firing. This is because the recent shooting from the Italian vessel resulting in the death of two Kerala fishermen violated the international conventions.

The convention is to retaliate only if a vessel is attacked. Warning signal and siren are essential musts. If any vessel, during her voyage in Indian territorial waters, face  any thereat they should inform Coast Guard or Coastal Police. It is a mystery why the Italian vessel neglected this.

The waters extending to 12 nautical miles are under the control of Coast guard and Coastal Police. This is India’s territorial water zone. India’s sea border is 200 nautical miles which is called Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

India has got absolute authority to go for oil exploration and fishing within this area. Indian fishermen were attacked and killed by the Italian crew despite the aforementioned  conditions.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017