Politics bedevils solution to Palk bay poaching

On October 1, Navy boats were patrolling the seas when they came across – a common occurrence now – Indian bottom trawlers poaching off Sri Lanka’s Point Pedro coast.

When the Navy approached the intruders to round them up, however, one of the trawlers turned sharply into a Dvora and damaged its hull. This week, a spokesman described it as an “aggressive manoeuvre”.

“In order to arrest them, we have to go close to convey our orders,” said Captain Akram Alavi. “They have no radio on board so it must be done by word of mouth. They initially didn’t listen to us and then did an aggressive manoeuvre.

We take it as intentionally damaging our craft.” It was akin, he described, to suddenly cutting into a car that was overtaking you. Worryingly, it happened again – this time, on October 26. As a result, two Dvoras of the Sri Lanka Navy had to go in for repairs.

The trawlers and their occupants were rounded up. A report was filed with the Attorney General’s (AG) Department and the Ministry of Defence. But in less than a fortnight of the second incident, to commemorate Deepavali, the boats were released to the Indian authorities along with the fishermen. In exchange, the Indians freed some Sri Lankan fishermen in their custody. This was the price of international relations.

The Navy takes its own task seriously enough. Its press releases state that it renders assistance to “prevent illegal activities at sea to protect the marine resources belonging to the country and enable Sri Lankan fishermen to engage in their livelihoods in accordance with the country’s maritime laws in a sustainable manner without harming the fishing resources”. And, so, India and Sri Lanka continue to carry out an “exchange programme” on an uneven ratio. It’s not uncommon to find five Sri Lankan fishermen sent back in exchange for 50 Indians. This poaching, the source claimed, is like prostitution. You cannot ban it; only control or monitor it.