New Delhi: A Sri Lankan minister has warned that recurring clashes between Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen may spark off a major showdown because the dispute is not getting resolved.
Minister Douglas Devananada said that there was mounting anger among Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen over what he described as repeated incursions by Tamil fishermen from India.
"I am afraid the issue is going to take a serious turn, become a serious crisis," Devananda, a Tamil, said.
"We are trying to keep our fishermen under control but this is becoming a difficulty every passing day."
Devananda, who heads the Ministry of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprises Development, accused fishermen from Tamil Nadu of repeatedly entering Sri Lankan waters in search of better quality seafood.
"For years and years, because of the LTTE problem, fishermen in the north of Sri Lanka could never make a decent living from fishing," he said, referring to the now vanquished Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
"Since May 2009, when the LTTE got destroyed, Tamil fishermen here are beginning to stand up and improve their lot.
"But Tamil Nadu fishermen come to our waters in powerful trawlers and not only take away our fish and other seafood but destroy the rich marine life on our side.
"This has become a major problem and unfortunately the problem is just not getting resolved," the minister said.
India-Sri Lanka relations have been marred by charges by Indian fishermen - and echoed by Indian leaders - that they are victims of attacks by the Sri Lankan Navy in the narrow sea dividing the two countries.
An unspecified number of fishermen from Tamil Nadu, the Indian state closest to Sri Lanka's north, have been killed in the sea. The killings have been blamed on the Sri Lanka Navy, which denies the charge.
Many Indian fishermen have also been caught and jailed in Sri Lanka.
Devananda said the Indian fishermen mostly came from the Tamil Nadu coastal districts of Nagapattinam and Rameswaram, and they swooped on the seafood in a wide arc -- from Jaffna peninsula to Mullaitivu.
"Many times they come late in the evening, spend the night catching fish, and leave in the morning. They remain in the sea, and even cook food in their vessels. In some cases, they spend two nights in a row.
"Trawlers are banned in Sri Lanka, to protect the corals and marine life. The Sri Lankan fishing vessels are comparatively smaller. Naturally, the livelihood of the Sri Lankan fishermen is affected. And so they are angry.
"It would be ideal if the Indian Coast Guard and the Sri Lankan Navy undertake joint patrols. But that is not happening. And if the Sri Lankan Navy intervenes, it is accused of killing people.
"The problem has become very serious. Clashes have taken place between Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen. Some of our people are threatening to go on hunger strike in front of the Indian High Commission in Colombo.
"Unless something is done quickly to resolve the crisis, it is sure to lead to a major crisis," said Devananda, who himself hails from Jaffna.