Protecting Seas from Indian Poachers

The tragic loss of our sailor should galvanize our nation to demand stronger measures against illegal fishing activities by Indian trawlers.

3 mins read
Indian fishermen, their identities obscured, and the Navy sailor who sacrificed his life for Sri Lanka's territorial integrity [Photos: Sri Lanka Navy/ File]

Editorial

After years of nonsensical arguments and fuelling conspiracy theories over the Easter carnage by a group of Islamic fanatics inspired by Islamic State’s vicious ideology, His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, the head of Catholic Chuch in Colombo, warns against the proposed bridge between India and Sri Lanka, highlighting the potential damage to the small island nation. His points must be taken seriously, as the consequences of proceeding with these projects in alignment with India’s wishes and their business tycoons could be dire. The tragic incident reported yesterday serves as a stark warning: Indian fishermen are robbing Sri Lanka, dishonouring all written and verbal agreements.

The tragic incident off Kankesanthurai yesterday, which resulted in the death of a Sri Lankan Navy sailor and significant damage to a Fast Attack Craft (FAC), underscores the ongoing and unacceptable encroachment of Indian fishermen into Sri Lankan waters. The Navy’s confrontation with the Indian trawler, marked by aggressive manoeuvres from the latter, is a blunt reminder of the persistent threat to our territorial integrity and maritime resources.

The fallen sailor was a remarkable individual and a true hero. Known as a great swimmer and diver, he initially joined the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) as a chef. However, his dedication and exceptional skills soon led him to volunteer for the elite Special Boat Squadron (SBS), where he made significant contributions to the country. Trained abroad as a frogman, his expertise and bravery were unparalleled. He was a devoted family man, married with two children, aged 11 and 5 years. Hailing from Ibbagamuwa, his sacrifice is a profound loss to both his family and the nation.

Despite ongoing diplomatic efforts and legal measures, Indian fishermen continue to intrude into Sri Lankan waters, exploiting our resources and endangering the lives of our naval personnel. This situation is not merely a matter of illegal fishing; it is a direct affront to our national sovereignty and the safety of those charged with defending it. The death of a Special Boat Squadron (SBS) sailor, who succumbed to his injuries after a valiant effort to protect our waters, is a painful testament to the gravity of this issue.

Historically, Sri Lanka has enjoyed a rich maritime heritage, with our waters playing a crucial role in sustaining local economies and communities. The persistent poaching by Indian fishermen threatens this heritage, undermining the livelihoods of Sri Lankan fishermen and depleting our marine resources. This is not a new phenomenon; it has its roots in the historical migration and settlement patterns in the region, but in modern times, it has escalated into a severe geopolitical and economic challenge.

The Sri Lankan Navy’s efforts to curb this illegal activity are commendable, given the extremely challenging conditions under which they operate. However, the regular encounters with aggressive Indian trawlers, often resulting in injuries to naval personnel and damage to naval assets, highlight the urgent need for a more robust and assertive response. The fact that 28 Indian poaching trawlers and 214 Indian fishermen have been apprehended this year alone is indicative of the scale of the problem.

Furthermore, it is disheartening to witness how many Sri Lankan politicians across mainstream political parties are placating India in a bid to win elections. This pathetic behaviour must be condemned and changed. Our leaders must show the courage to demand justice for the killing of our naval officer. If the situation were reversed, with an Indian sailor killed by Sri Lankans or any others in countries under India’s so-called “neighbourhood first policy,” India would undoubtedly react with significant outrage and immediate action. This incident must not be tolerated. It must serve as the pivotal moment to halt all illegal activities by Indian fishermen.

Moreover, it is crucial to reevaluate all projects that India has offered in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, as these often serve their vested interests rather than benefiting Sri Lanka. Our nation’s sovereignty and the welfare of our citizens must always come first.

The actions of these poachers are not only illegal but also deeply disrespectful to the sovereignty of Sri Lanka. The aggressive manoeuvres that caused the death of our sailor and the damage to our naval craft must be condemned in the strongest terms. It is imperative that the Indian government takes immediate and decisive action to prevent its fishermen from encroaching into our waters and ensures that those who do are held accountable.

International maritime law must be upheld to protect our territorial waters. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) clearly delineates maritime boundaries and the rights of coastal states over their territorial waters. Sri Lanka’s rights under these international laws must be respected and enforced.

The tragic loss of our sailor should galvanise our nation to demand stronger measures against illegal fishing activities by Indian trawlers. It is high time that we take a firm stand to protect our maritime sovereignty and ensure the safety and security of our naval personnel. The sacrifices of our sailors must not be in vain. We must honour their bravery by ensuring that our waters are safeguarded against any form of encroachment, now and in the future.

Sri Lanka Guardian

The Sri Lanka Guardian is an online web portal founded in August 2007 by a group of concerned Sri Lankan citizens including journalists, activists, academics and retired civil servants. We are independent and non-profit. Email: editor@slguardian.org

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