01/21/2008, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Urgent need to create safer working conditions for fishermen

by Melani Manel Perera
Two fishermen organisations, the World Forum for Fisher People and the National Fisheries Solidarity, are pushing for changes. For the past month they have been trying to locate three fishermen who went missing out at sea. The latter’s families say the situation is due to the authorities’ failure to act and their continued indifference vis-à-vis the men’s fate.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The government of Sri Lanka cannot provide sufficient safety protection to fishermen. In cases of emergency its interventions are inadequate and when the worst happens the authorities neither help nor compensate victims’ families, this according to World Forum for Fisher People (WFFP) and the National Fisheries Solidarity (NAFSO). A case in point: for more than a month the NAFSO has been searching for three Catholic fishermen who disappeared on 12 December off the coast near Negombo on the western part of the island.

“Safety in the sea and workers rights are our main concern,” WFFP Secretary General Herman Kumara told AsiaNews. “We want the Sri Lanka government to [. . .] adopt rules and regulations and take measures to ensure fishermen’s life” when they are out to sea.

At present only the two aforementioned organisations are doing anything to find three missing fishermen, Anthony Gestamani, 30; Anthony Suresh, 34; and Millan Dhammica, 35 and owner of the boat, who went missing more than a month ago.

So far the Sri Lankan government has shown indifference to the case, Kumara said. It has also failed to help the fishermen’s families who are now in dire straits.

For the wives of the three missing fishermen the boat experienced mechanical problems and their distress call went unanswered.

Changed weather conditions the day after they left port likely pushed their disabled fishing boat further away from land.

“We informed the Fisheries authorities as well as police of the incident,” Anthony Gestamani’s wife explained. “But no one listened to what we said or even bothered to think about helping our families now that we have no more breadwinner.”

For Kumara the government must ratify right away the International Labour Organisation Convention on labour standards that was adopted last year to provide fishermen protection. In his opinion it must also urgently “boost the Fisheries Department’s tools and equipment to better control the sea and help fishermen in distress.”

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