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Caritas wins fishermen’s release

Church efforts succeed in freeing men attacked by pirates and held by India

Sri Lankan boats in a harbor Sri Lankan boats in a harbor
  • ucanews.com reporter, Beruwala
  • Sri Lanka
  • June 16, 2011
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Efforts by the Church’s social arm Caritas helped win the release on Tuesday of four fishermen who were attacked by Somali pirates and then later held by Indian authorities for six months.

"The authorities would have struggled to get the fishermen back had it not been for Caritas representatives in both Sri Lanka and India," said S. P. Anthonimuthu, coordinator of Caritas Sri Lanka.

The four fishermen were among a crew of six who were attacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean in November last year.  The pirates abducted two of the crew – who were later released and returned to Sri Lanka -- and forced the other four to help them attack an oil tanker using their fishing boat.

After the tanker was taken the four crewmen were held for ransom but after Caritas appealed for their release they were taken back out to sea and freed by the pirates.

They were later picked up by Indian coast guards and taken to Minicoy Island on December 3, where they remained in custody as a result of what they call bureaucratic inactivity.

National director Father George Sigamoney and other Caritas officials however worked through diplomatic channels during that time to win the fishermen’s release.

For the last six months we’ve written hundreds of letters and made thousands of telephone calls, to try and win their freedom, Anthonimuthu said.

The four fishermen, who arrived home later on Tuesday, said if it had not been for Caritas their hopes of getting back home may not have been realized.

“We are indebted to Caritas for bringing us back,” said Ruwan T. Fernando, 31, after returning to his hometown of Beruwala.

He criticized the government for “not trying” to speed up their return.

"Two of our colleagues captured by the Somali pirates were able to return home earlier than us,” he said.

“We were not fishing illegally. We are innocent fishermen. It wouldn’t have been difficult to get us back. Instead the government let us languish for six months,” he complained.

Related report

Caritas aids imprisoned fishermen
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