A Sri Lankan court on Thursday released 18 Rameswaram fishermen while sentencing a boat driver to six months of imprisonment. The 19 fishermen and two boats from Rameswaram were apprehended by the Sri Lankan navy on Feb 7 on charges of poaching in the territorial waters of Sri Lanka. The judgment comes amidst the ongoing tension at Rameswaram as fishermen have been staging a series of protests demanding the release of fishermen and boats from Sri Lankan custody.

As the 19 fishermen were produced before the Oorkavalthurai court on Thursday, the magistrate released 18 fishermen on the condition that they should not return to Sri Lankan waters for fishing while the boat driver Johnson was sentenced to six months of prison. Another boat driver, Anton Sasikumar, also the boat owner, was released but his boat was nationalized by the court. The judge also ordered that K Alex, the owner of another boat, should appear before the court on May 14 with his boat documents.

The island nation has started invoking a section of Fisheries (Regulation of Foreign Fishing Boats) (Amendment) 2018 to take serious action on the fishing boats from India entering its territorial waters. The fishermen are booked for trespass, using banned nets in Sri Lankan waters and poaching. Repeat offenders are imprisoned for one year. Starting from Feb 16, the Sri Lankan court started ordering imprisonment for boat drivers since the boat owners, who were ordered by the court to appear before it on another date, prefer not to appear.