Rameswaram/Chennai, Dec 22: Four fishermen from Rameswaram were taken into custody by Sri Lanka navy while fishing near Katchatheevu in the third instance of such action this month by the island country.
The latest detention came on a day when Tamil Nadu government made public a letter written by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa two days ago to Prime Minister Narendra Modi voicing concern at recurring instances of such arrests.
Fisheries officials said that Lanka navy personnel late last night surrounded a boat belonging to one Palraj and took him into custody along with three others. With the latest arrest, the total number of Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan custody has risen to 51.
Fisheries Assistant Directors Gopinath and Sekar said that fishermen from Rameswaram, Mandapam and Jegathapattinam had put out to sea in more than 600 mechanised boats yesterday and were fishing near Katchatheevu when the Lanka navy moved against them.
The four fishermen were taken to Thalaimannar in Lanka along with their boat, they said, adding that the fishing nets of several boats were also damaged.
Most of the fishermen returned to the shore without any catch in view of the incident, the officials said. Mechanised Boat Fishermen Association President T Sesuraja, too, alleged that the Lankan personnel damaged the fishing nets of several boats and threatened the fishermen against operating in the island nation's territory.
Stating that such mid-sea incidents had become a routine affair, he urged the government to ensure that fishermen from the state were able to fish in their traditional areas in the Palk Strait. Meanwhile, calling for the fishermen to be allowed to pursue their vocation in "their traditional fishing waters of Palk Bay", Jayalalithaa urged Modi that such instances should cease immediately.
She also asked him to take steps to secure the release of 47 fishermen, including six persons arrested on December 19.
In her letter dated December 20, Jayalalithaa said, "The frequency of apprehensions and abductions of our fishermen is on the increase.These recurrent instances of attacks upon, and abductions of, our fishermen on the high seas in the Palk Bay should be stopped immediately."
Seeking Modi's personal intervention, she urged him to direct the Ministry of External Affairs to strongly take up the matter with Lankan authorities for securing the immediate release of the fishermen and their boats.
She reiterated her government's stand that the Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) with Sri Lanka "cannot be treated as a settled question". Jayalalithaa noted that she had moved Supreme Court in her personal capacity questioning the validity of two agreements between India and Sri Lanka ceding Katchatheevu islet to the island republic in the 1970s.
She also reminded the prime minister of her government's demand for a deep sea fishing package of Rs 1,520 crore, saying it was still awaiting the Centre's approval.