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India should get compensation from the US Navy like Kerala got for victims of Enrica Lexie

Sam Rajappa| 27 Jul 2012, Vol 3 Issue 30

Many fishermen in southern Tamil Nadu have stopped venturing into the Pak Bay for fear of attacks by the Sri Lankan Navy and India’s failure to take any deterrent action in spite of repeated appeals to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by Chief Minister Jayalalthaa.

Her predecessor, Muthuvel Karunanidhi of the DMK, in spite of being a senior partner in the ruling United Progressive Alliance led by the Congress, also failed to throw his weight to make New Delhi take note of the plight of the fishermen and prevail on the Sri Lanka government to restrain its Navy from harassing fishermen from Tamil Nadu.

Death stalks Tamil Nadu fishermen, many of whom have stopped fishing in the Palk Straits fearing the rogue Lankan navy (Photo courtesy: Nakkheeran Bi-weekly)

Ever since the Congress government of Indira Gandhi ceded Kachchativu, a tiny islet in the Palk Straits which was an integral part of Ramanathapuram district, to Sri Lanka in 1974 without the requisite constitutional amendment, more than 650 Tamil Nadu fishermen have been shot dead by the Sri Lankan Navy for allegedly fishing around the ceded islet.

The sea has no boundary line and fishermen from both India and Sri Lanka crisscross their respective territorial waters in pursuit of shoals of fish. While there is no record of a single Sri Lankan fisherman being shot dead by the Indian Navy or the Coast Guard, the record of the island nation is dismal.

Fearing Sri Lankan bullets and arrest by her Navy, thousands of fishermen from southern Tamil Nadu have stopped venturing into the Palk Straits. Fishing is the only vocation these fishermen are familiar with. Not venturing into the sea spells starvation for them and their families.

Some of them seek employment on daily wage basis in Kerala-based fishing boats. One such fisherman from Kanyakumari district fell victim to firing on the fishing boat he was working in by Italian marines on board the merchant ship Enrica Lexie on 15 February.

Thanks to the pro-active stand taken by the Kerala government, the marines involved in opening fire at the unarmed hapless fishing boat are facing trial for murder and the victim’s family was paid rupees one crore as compensation.

A Sekhar (25), M Panduvanathan (22), K Muthukannan (32) and R Muthumaniraj (27), all from Ramanathapuram district of Tamil Nadu, unable to see their families starving and afraid of fishing in the unsecured Palk Bay, went to Dubai last year to work on daily wages to eke out a living.

Sekhar was killed and the other three injured when the US Navy Ship Rappahannock fired at the small fishing boat they were working in near the Dubai port of Jabel Ali.

The USA maintains the crew of Rappahannock repeatedly attempted to warn the fishing boat to turn away, and only when those efforts failed to deter the approaching boat, the security team on the naval vessel opened fire.

However, inquiry by Dubai police, according to its Commander-in-Chief Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, has revealed there was no such warning and the fishing boat was not moving towards the naval vessel.

In peace-time, the principle of proportionate force is an obligatory ingredient of the rules of engagement. The ship should have provided humanitarian assistance to the crew of the fishing boat in accordance with international law as they were of no threat to its personnel, but failed to do so.

The USA has significantly increased its military presence in the Persian Gulf to enforce the UN Security Council’s trading embargo on Iran to force the country to limit its nuclear programme.

The death of the fisherman in the firing by the US naval vessel should alert New Delhi about the uncertain future of the six million Indians living in West Asia, including 5,000-odd fishermen from Tamil Nadu driven to the Gulf to escape harassment by the Sri Lankan Navy.

New Delhi should not rest content with bringing back the body of the slain fisherman and handing it over to his bereaved parents at Thoppuvalaasi village in Ramanathapuram.

It should obtain at least the same amount of compensation from the US Navy the Kerala government was able to get for the slain Kanyakumari fisherman’s family from the Italian owners of the merchant ship Enrica Lexie.

Sekhar was the lone bread-winner for his family after his father, M Arumugham, stopped fishing in the Palk Straits for fear of atrocities by the Sri Lankan Navy on Tamil Nadu fishermen.

Sam Rajappa is Consulting Editor of The Weekend Leader

  • Thursday, November 23, 2017