T he Indian Navy has positioned itself in the difficult weather conditions of the Bay of Bengal to guard the Sri Lankan fishing vessel and crew that intruded into the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) on Tuesday. This comes after two armed Indian Coast Guard sailors, who had been over-powered and taken captive by the Sri Lankan crew they had been guarding after the intrusion, were released on Friday.
According to a statement made by the Indian Navy, the Indian Coast Guard Ships Priyadarshini and Sarang apprehended seven Sri Lankan fishing boats poaching in Indian waters on Tuesday. The poaching vessels were thereafter under escort to Visakhapatnam, with two Coast Guard sailors on each boat, when on Wednesday night, the two sailors on the vessel Win Marine were overpowered under knife attack, and the boat slipped away with them on board.
The vessel was located again on Friday morning approximately 200 kms east of Chennai and the two Coast Guard sailors were recovered safely by the Indian Navy, without any casualties. According to naval sources, the Indian Navy and Coast Guard had deployed Dornier maritime reconnaissance aircraft which located the vessel, following which, at least three large vessels of the Indian Navy closed in on the Win Marine. The Sri Lankan Navy, though not present at the scene, was also in touch with the crew of the Win Marine over radio and their exhortations added to the persuasive effect of the vessels of the Eastern Fleet of the Indian Navy in convincing the Sri Lankan fishermen to release the Coast Guard sailors captured by them, safely and with their carbines.
The Indian Navy has not been able to take custody of the vessel and its crew because of the inclement weather and waters, as well as nightfall. With wind speeds of over 40 knots, it has been considered risky and unwise to attempt to tow the vessel, especially in the dark, because of the danger of it capsizing. Unofficial sources in the Indian Navy have said the operation will resume on Saturday morning.
The apprehended Sri Lankan fishing trawlers will be handed over to the police to initiate penal action as laid down in the Maritime Zones of India Act, 1976 as well as under any other laws that may be applicable.
Instances of Sri Lankan fishermen trespassing through Indian waters have been on the rise in the recent past, and are a serious cause of concern. In the year 2009, 123 boats along with 647 Sri Lankan fishermen have been apprehended by the Indian Coast Guard.