Catholic priests support fishermen's protest against seaplanes
by Melani Manel Perera
During Mass celebrated for the annual feast of St. Jude, thousands of fishermen protested against the government SeaPlane plan, which provides for the landing of flying boats in the lagoon. The project, which is part of a program for the development of tourism in Sri Lanka, puts at risk the livelihood of the families of the villages around the Negombo lagoon, not taking into account the severe environmental impact that it would cause.

Seeduwa (AsiaNews) - At the annual St. Jude Forest Birds festival, held last October 31, about two thousand fishermen, faithful and some social activists took part in the Mass celebrated in the parish of Kurulu Kele (Seeduwa, archdiocese of Colombo) . Fr. Patrick Perera, vicar general of the northern part of the Diocese of Colombo, presided over the function along with Fr Basil Wickremasinghe, pastor of the Church, and Fr Lester Nonis, director of the Catholic fishermen’s Association of Negombo. All the fishermen of the lagoon, their families and vessels were blessed, then, they raised their voice in protest against the government’s SeaPlane project. About ten priests and nuns from nearby villages attended the Mass, together with the fishermen - who with their families numbered about two thousand people – as well as believers and some other social activists.

Fr. Basil Wickremasinghe invited all the faithful to pray to God to protect their livelihoods from disruptions caused by the SeaPlane project, and added that all priests support the fishermen’s protests. During his homily, Fr. Nonis recalled that there is only God to protect people and their lives. "With the church we have taken steps to address this problem [SeaPlane project], but at the moment we have not received any positive response. The sea, the lagoon, the whole environment are the beautiful creations of our Lord, and your livelihoods are threatened by these projects that do not care about the development of the fishermen. "

Marcus Fernando, a member of the Negombo united fisher people, told AsiaNews: "The Negombo lagoon provides direct livelihood to more than five  thousand families of 35 villages around here [the lagoon]. Almost four thousand families depend indirectly, fish sellers, collectors, repair centres, centres for the sale of equipment, etc. They are all small-scale fishermen, and their only means of livelihood is fishing. If this project goes through, the lives of many will be in danger. "

The project is part of the Mahinda Chinthanaya development program, and provides for the introduction of seaplanes to promote tourism in areas difficult to reach. In addition to the Negombo Lagoon, part of the project targets the lakes Parakrama Samudra, Thisawewa, Victoria and Beira. The fishermen accuse the government of not worrying about the serious consequences that the landing of flying planes would cause to the fishermen of the village, whose livelihood is based almost solely on fishing.