Embassy: Sri Lanka not holding fishermen

Updated: 2012-08-07 14:35

By ZHOU WA (chinadaily.com.cn)

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The Chinese embassy in Sri Lanka told the China Daily on Tuesday that an earlier report stating that Sri Lanka's navy was still holding 37 Chinese fishermen is not accurate.

The fishermen are free to leave the trawlers and the incident was a misunderstanding, the embassy said.

The fishermen's freedom was never limited during the incident, and it is now up to the fishermen whether to stay on the trawlers or to leave, said Yuan Baisheng, a consul of the Chinese embassy in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka's navy was quoted by Reuters on Monday as saying that it was holding 37 Chinese fishermen that were due to appear in court on charges of fishing within its waters, contradicting an earlier report from Xinhua News Agency saying that they had been released.

He said that the Chinese fishermen detained by Sri Lanka's navy on Sunday night were not involved in illegal fishing activities.

The fishermen were working in two trawlers owned by a Sri Lankan shipping company, which bought the two vessels from China. Locals might have confused the Sri Lankan vessels with Chinese vessels, due to old Chinese logos on the ships, Yuan said.

"The fishermen were free to move around during the 'detention'," said Yuan, but the details surrounding the incident need to be further clarified.

Sri Lankan navy spokesman Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya was quoted by Xinhua as saying that the Chinese were arrested for illegally fishing in Sri Lankan waters and would be handed over to police for further investigation.

The fishermen were in the two trawlers off the eastern coast of Batticaloa, he said, adding that two Sri Lankan crewmen were also arrested.

The two trawlers — one with a crew of 19 Chinese and one Sri Lankan and the other with 18 Chinese and one Sri Lankan — were escorted to Sri Lanka's Trincomalee Harbor, the navy said.

The trawlers — the YU 6177 and the YU 6178 — are registered with the Sri Lanka's Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and have permission to fish beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone of Sri Lanka, the navy said on its website.