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Sri Lankan fishermen being strangled by fuel costs

After doubling price of kerosene, government caves to demands by reintroducing fuel subsidies

Sri Lankan fishermen being strangled by fuel costs

Fishermen display black flags on their boats and trawlers in Negombo on May 15. Fish markets have also been closed with legions of boats staying docked. (Photo by Quintus Colombage/ucanews.com)  

Quintus Colombage, Negombo
Sri Lanka

May 16, 2018

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Rising fuel prices have led to widespread protests by unionized fishermen in Sri Lanka, many of whom have refused to head out to sea since May 14 as they demand the government heed their call to keep a lid on the cost of kerosene and petrol.

As part of their demonstration they have also hoisted black flags on their boats and trawlers, forcing fish markets to close and leaving harbors full.

On May 10, the government increased the price of kerosene by 57 rupees (US$0.36) per liter, petrol by 20 rupees and diesel by 14 rupees.

It takes 20-35 liters of kerosene to fuel a small single-engine boat for a day's fishing which is making the job untenable for many, hence the decision to stay docked until the prices are reduced, said Loyal Pieris, president of the National Fisher Union.

"The cost of fuel has risen from 1,500 to 3,000 rupees per day (US$9.40-$18.80)," said Pieris, who represents 2,000 union members.

Following the countrywide protest and continuous boycotting of fishing activities, the government agreed to provide fuel subsidies from May 18.

Fishermen put up posters in public places in Negombo on May 15 seeking fuel subsidies, a demand the government has now met. (Photo by Quintus Colombage/ucanews.com)  

 

But Pieris said his members would not be satisfied with this measure, which was attempted previously, and urged the government to reduce fuel prices across the board.

"When they arranged fuel subsidies last time, some officials took bribes and gave them to other people instead of those who make a living by going out to sea," he told ucanews.com.

"Thousands of fisher folk took to the streets in 2012 to oppose the fuel prices hikes introduced under the reign of Mahinda Rajapaksa," he said.

"Then the police shot protestors who were demonstrating peacefully and at least one Catholic, Anton Fernando, was killed," said Peiris from Barudalpola in the town of Maravilla, North Western Province.

He said that tea workers and farmers are also facing difficulties due to the sudden surge in prices.

Another fisherman, Anton Samare from Negombo, said that the cost of engine parts and nets has also increased several times recently, making it almost impossible to afford to the daily cost of living.

"I have three schoolchildren so it's very difficult to survive now that we also have to spend more money for fuel," said Samare.

"Some days we don't catch any fish yet we still have to pay for all that kerosene, the cost of which has gone up 130 percent."

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said the fishermen have been the worst affected and the government was duty-bound to help them.

Many Sri Lankan fishermen are Christians from marginalized communities who would routinely sacrifice a day's income on Sundays in order to attend church services and respect the Sabbath as a day of rest.

They say it's a tough job as damaged nets can rob them of up to a week's wages and if they return to port empty-handed, all they have is their outgoing costs and no income at all.

Mangala Samaraweera, Sri Lanka's finance minister, said the government would not be able to restore earlier fuel prices due to the rising oil prices on the world market.

Meanwhile, private bus owners have called to raise the minimum bus fare to pass on some of the fuel hike to passengers.

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