Catholic fishermen in Sri Lanka find themselves in a predicament. While the Sri Lankan government has relaxed restrictions on Indian fishermen entering their territorial waters to participate in a feast day celebration, local fishermen accuse the Indians of poaching. “We urge the government to take immediate action to ban Indian fishermen entering our territory,” said Sinniah Thavaratnam, a Tamil Catholic and the president of Consortium of Fishermen in the Northern Province. The major problem is Indian fishermen damaging Sri Lankan natural resources by using big trawler-boats with modern facilities, he said. “Hundreds of Sri Lankan fishermen have thus lost their jobs,” said Thavaratnam. On the other hand the Sri Lankan government is relaxing restrictions for Indian fishermen to participate at Saint Anthony’s feast in Kachchativu Island on March 19-20. The feast of Saint Anthony is an opportunity for Tamil fishermen and their families on both sides of the maritime border that separates Sri Lanka and India to meet and pray together. Over 5,000 fishermen arrive for the feast in Sri Lanka from India. India ceded the Kachchativu Island to Sri Lanka in 1974. Devotees from India continued to attend the festivities of St. Anthony's Church. From 1983 to 2002, the Sri Lankan government prohibited people from visiting the island due to the conflict between the Tamil rebels and the military. The feast traditionally falls on June 13 but is locally observed in the third week of March due to calmer seas. Local Catholics consider Saint Anthony as the guardian of fishermen. However, a group of fishermen met at the Indian High Commission on March 16 to hand over a petition requesting that Indian fishermen stop encroaching into Sri Lankan waters. Father S.M.P. Ananthakumar, parish priest of St Thomas church in Mathagal fishing village, separately handed over another petition to the Indian High Commissioner recently on the same issue. It is estimated that approximately 2,000 Indian trawlers enter Sri Lankan waters every week. Sri Lanka loses about 500 million rupees (US$4.5 million) annually because of such poaching. SR13668.1645
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