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SLN presence on Iranativu deters poachers and drug smugglers
 

Iranativu Island, which has a land extent of 05 square kilometers, is located in the Punakaree Divisional Secretariat of the Kilinochchi district. The land, dotted with scrub jungles and thorny forest, is made up of two islets, north and south. The island lies in the seas off Mannar under the purview of SLNS Buwaneka. Although human settlements had existed on Iranativu in the past, all civilians had left the island in 1992 due to the prevailing war as well as lack of drinking water and other sanitary facilities. They have now been settled in Nachchikudah and the Iranamata Grama Niladhari Division in the Punakaree Divisional Secretariat.

The uninhabited island of Iranativu had been a safe haven for the LTTE sea tigers in their heyday. It had been a strategic link in the terror outfit’s supply route, which had stretched from southern coastal areas in India to Nachchikudha and Vedithalativu. They had put up make-shift camps, which were destroyed by the SLN’s elite fighting formations, Special Boats Squadron (SBS) and Rapid Action Boats Squadron (RABS), in their successful amphibious operations. LTTE terrorists had also used the island of north-western Sri Lanka to get away from SLN Fast Attack Craft (FAC) by taking advantage of its shallow waters. Taking cover of large Indian fishing trawlers, LTTE sea tiger smuggling vessels had been able to get closer to Iranativu Island for unloading the contraband. However, high speed manoeuvres of the specially designed fighting craft used by the SBS and RABS successfully had foiled the sea tiger designs to stockpile arms and ammunitions.

Today, Sri Lanka Navy maintains a radar station on the island due to its strategic location. SLN presence acts as a deterrence to Indian fishermen poaching in Sri Lankan waters as well as drug smugglers coming from India. SLN radar can well detect Indian as well as other fishing vessels. As such, SLN can timely act on intrusions into Sri Lankan waters and assist fishermen when they are in distress.

Poaching carried out by Indian fishermen, who cross the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL), has led to the destruction and over-exploitation of maritime resources. The blatant act has severely affected the Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen, especially those living in the North, who are recovering from a three-decade long conflict. The destructive fishing methods, such as bottom trawling (Benthic), used by the Indian fishermen with scant regard to national and international mechanisms in place to protect fishing resources have led to the depletion of fish stocks, thus depriving the livelihood of Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen. As such, SLN remains vigilant to safeguard the sea areas surrounding Iranativu Island; it keeps a close eye on Indian poachers as well as drug smugglers. SLN’s round-the-clock surveillance in the area has curtailed the criminal acts perpetrated by Indian nationals disguised as fishermen.

The Navy, which is committed to foster religious and ethnic amity, also facilitates the annual mass of the Church of Our Lady of Rosary located on Iranativu. The event coinciding the first Friday of 40-day lent season is held with the participation of Christian devotees. It commences with the confession at the grotto followed by the way of the cross to the church; the festive mass is presided by the Vicar General (Jaffna). SLNS Buwaneka, the naval base located six nautical miles east of Iranativu, is the key contributor of facilitating basic needs of the devotees. The Navy provides drinking water, medical facilities, electricity and security to devotees during their stay on the island. Naval craft are also deployed in the area with life-saving teams on board to ensure the safety of devotees on their way to the island.

As such, SLN presence on the strategic island of Iranativu is vital for the protection of Sri Lanka’s territorial waters and the livelihoods of Sri Lankan fishermen.