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Feb-16-2012 16:42printcomments

Pilgrims Ready to Set Sail for Shrine on Lankan Isle, Navy Steps Up Security

Security will be stepped up along the maritime boundary in view of the festival and fishing will be banned for two days.

Tamil pilgrims

(CHENNAI) - Nearly 10,000 pilgrims from Tamil Nadu will set sail to the Katchatheevu island on a two-day pilgrimage for the St Antony's Church festival for the third consecutive year on March 3 and 4.

Indian fishermen attacked by Lanka Navy

India had given the island to Sri Lanka in 1974. According to a pact between then prime minister Indira Gandhi and her Ceylon counterpart Sirimavo Bandaranayake, fishermen of both the countries are allowed to fish near the island and offer prayers at the church, but the pilgrimage was stopped between 1983 and 2010 because of the Sri Lankan wars. The pilgrimage resumed in 2011.

Representatives of South Indian Fisherman Association, Anglo Indian Suburban Front and Federation of the Catholic faithful met Sri Lankan deputy high commissioner Vadivel Krishnamoorthy recently and submitted a memorandum urging for basic facilities for Indian pilgrims.

They said there were no basic facilities like toilets and drinking water. Even food for the two-day journey had to be taken from Rameswaram, they said. A Roy Rozario, president and founder of Anglo Indian Suburban Front said the St Joseph's Church in Rameswaram is making arrangements for boats to ferry the pilgrims at Rs 300 per head. "Pilgrims will leave Rameswaram by fishing boats and they will be transferred to fibre boats mid-sea.

The distance of 15 miles to Katchatheevu will be covered in three hours," he said.

The Indian pilgrims will be escorted by ships of the Indian Coast Guard and Indian Navy. They will have to follow immigration procedures though there is no need for visa and passport for the pilgrimage. The pilgrims will return to Rameswaram on March 4.

The Indian ships which escort the pilgrims will hand them over to the Sri Lankan Navy at the International Maritime Boundary Line from where they will be escorted to Katcheevu island by the Sri Lankan navy personnel.

Security will be stepped up along the maritime boundary in view of the festival and fishing will be banned for two days.

Representatives of the pilgrims have sought an appointment with Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalitha on Friday to urge the government to prevail upon the Sri Lankan government to provide basic amenities for Indian pilgrims.

Special thanks to Times of India

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