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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2609

LTTE’s Era of Sea Piracy Has Ended

By Sanjeewa Karunaratne

Operating the most comprehensive naval networks among the designated foreign terrorist organizations by the U.S., the LTTE’s Sea Tigers were considered, until recently, as "untouchable" pirates who feared no nation. They were one of the leading pirates in the world, though little known, because of their unfortunate targets were often Malaysian, Jordanian, Philippine, Maldivian Chinese and Sri Lankan ships and the crew often disappeared. At the LTTE’s final hour, let’s look into what could have been a "Nightmare in the Indian Ocean."

Indian Ocean is a hunting ground for two of the world’s notorious sea criminals: LTTE and Somali pirates. Both these groups are operating in lawless, semi-autonomous pieces of land conducive to their unlawful acts. However, Somali pirates usually take crew members hostage to obtain ransom, but the LTTE, more interested in the goods—to feed its cadres—and the ship—to use for smuggling— than ransom, often got rid of them to cover up its trails.

On May 23, 1997, Greek registered freighter "Stillus Limassul" left Mozambique port of Beria for Sri Lanka carrying 32,400 81mm mortar bombs intended for Sri Lanka's army. The Sri Lankan armed forces never received this U.S. $ 3 million consignment of arms. The LTTE off-loaded the military supplies from this ship and transported it by small speed boats to LTTE jungle bases off Mullaitivu coast. These weapons, a month later, were used by the LTTE with a devastating effect to control the A9 Highway.

When the LTTE captured MV Cordiality near the port of Trincomalee, they killed all five Chinese crew members on board. On May 25, 1999, LTTE hijacked the MV Sik Yang, a 2818-ton Malaysian cargo ship with a cargo of bagged salt, which was sailing from Tuticorin, India and used it as a phantom vessel (Salt, sodium chloride can be changed to sodium chlorate easily, which when mixed with aluminum can make very powerful explosive powder). The fate of its 63-member crew is still unknown.

In December 2006, LTTE forced a Jordanian ship, MV Farah III carrying 14,000 tons of Indian rice to run aground. LTTE robbed the rice and removed all radio communication equipment, radar, lights and generators from the vessel. Asian Tribune reports on December 24, "Jordan Transport Ministry told the Jordanian news Agency, Petra that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) seized one of the Jordanian ships off Sri Lanka North East coast and burgled it."

In March 2007, LTTE hijacked an Indian fishing trawler “Sri Krishna” off the Moldavian waters and kept its crew hostage in Vanni. The Maldivian Coast Guard intercepted the vessel, reported missing since March 4, with a large consignment of artillery shells after LTTE cadres commandeered it and fired at the Maldivians. An Indian captain and four LTTE operatives were taken into custody by the Maldivian Coast Guard.

According to the Sri Lanka Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from October 1994 to January 2007, ships LTTE attacked also include MV Ocean Trader, MV Sea Dancer, MV Lanka Muditha, MV Irish Mona, MV Princess Wave, MV Athena, MV Mission, MV Morang Bong, MV Princess Kash, MV Newco Endurance, MV Julia, MV Mercs Uhana, MV Pride, MV Dunhinda, MV Fu-Yuan and MV Liverpool.

In the EU-US International Seminar on LTTE held in December 2008, Mr. Ravinatha Ariyasinha, Ambassador of Sri Lanka to EU, Belgium and Luxembourg, while acknowledging the above crimes, stated, "The LTTE has engaged in acts of sea piracy. Vessels flying Philippine, Greek, Indonesian, Panamanian, Belize, Chinese, Jordanian, Cambodian and Indian flags have been at the receiving end of the LTTE’s terror."

Like Federal Agent Elliot Ness took out Chicago’s crime lord, Al Capone in the movie "The Untouchables," Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) dealt a devastating blow to the LTTE’s maritime supremacy. Had it not been for the valiant and innovative tactics of the SLN—which traveled as farther as 1620 nautical miles southeast, close to the Cocos Islands off the coasts of Australia and Indonesia, to destroy three phantom ships—sea trade in one of the busiest parts in the Indian Ocean could have been gravely compromised.

The U.S., facing a challenge from Somali pirates, should study the approach of the SLN, which tackled a much powerful adversary with approximately 25 vessels, some of which are armed with the latest weapons and packed with explosives. At a time when the LTTE is breathing its last breath, the world must take a serious note of a secessionist movement evolving out-of-bound to pose a threat to legitimate nations in the world in land, sea and air, and how the Sri Lanka’s military successfully beat it.

- Asian Tribune -

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