Five Sri Lankan fishermen die after drinking unknown liquids from drifting bottles

Fishermen pull a fishing net at a beach in Galle, Sri Lanka (AFP via Getty)
Fishermen pull a fishing net at a beach in Galle, Sri Lanka (AFP via Getty)

Five Sri Lankan fishermen have died after drinking unknown liquids from bottles they found adrift in the sea, the South Asian nation’s navy said.

A group of six fishermen had sailed from the Tangalle Fisheries Harbour on a multiday trip and found the bottles floating nearly 320 nautical miles (592.64km) off the coast of Sri Lanka. They thought the bottles contained alcohol and consumed the contents, navy spokesperson Gayan Wickramasuriya said.

Four of them died shortly after drinking the liquids while another succumbed on Sunday. The sixth person took critically ill and was later evacuated to a Singaporean merchant vessel, MV Kota Camil, for treatment.

The navy dispatched a ship, SLNS Vijayabahu, with a medical team to provide medical aid and facilitate the safe return of the survivor. Mr Wickramasuriya said necessary steps were being taken for the Singaporean vessel to transfer the fisherman to SLNS Vijayabahu at sea.

The fishermen had distributed some of the bottles they found to nearby fishing trawlers, said Susantha Kahawatte, director general of the Sri Lankan Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and the authorities were trying to notify them against consuming the unknown liquids.

The victims were on a multiday fishing voyage aboard a trawler called Devon 5 and had set sail on 4 June. The trawler was being towed back to shore by another vessel.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan navy arrested 25 Indian fishermen and seized their four country boats during the early hours of Monday for allegedly violating the country’s maritime boundary.

In a similar operation last month, the island nation’s navy arrested 22 fishermen from India’s Tamil Nadu state and seized their mechanised boats.

In recent years, disagreements over fishing rights have heightened tensions between India and Sri Lanka, with Colombo arresting more than 240 Indian fishermen in 2023 alone.