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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 914

Jordan confirms Tamil Tigers pirated ship: Reports crew members are safe

By Walter Jayawardhana

Colombo, 24 December, (Asiantribune.com): Jordan’s 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’s North East coast and burgled it but its crew was safe.

"A Jordanian ship owned by the International Al Salam (Peace) Company for Trade and Transport was seized and burgled by the Tamil Tiger rebels off Sri Lanka's northeast coast, at midnight on Friday, according to a statement released by Jordan’s Transport Ministry," the Petra item said.

Further quoting the Jordanian government Petra said, "Contacts are underway by the Jordanian government through its foreign ministry with Sri Lankan authorities to ensure safety of the ship 25-member crew and contacts have also been made with the International Maritime Organization to take necessary procedures in such emergency situations, said the statement."

"The Farha-3 vessel, carrying 14,000 tons of Indian rice and sailing from the south Indian coast to Durban, South Africa, developed engine trouble Friday off Sri Lanka's northeast coast and was forced to stop before being seized by the Tamil rebels, said the company’s Board Chairman Said Suleiman. All the 25 members of the ship’s crew are in good conditions and none of them was hurt, Suleiman said in a statement to Petra.

He said as soon as his company was notified of the engine trouble it made contacts with a company specialized in towing ships and reached an agreement with them to tow Farah-3 to the capital Colombo port for repair. But as locomotive Maha Oya was about to arrive to the site, the captain of ship contacted the company to tell them that his ship was captured by the Tamil Tiger rebels and the news was confirmed by Sri Lanka’s marine forces, Suleiman said," Petra further reported.

This is not the first time the LTTE was involved in sea piracy. India Today newsmagazine in its May 1 2000 issue said, "The rise in piracy is ominous for India and could open a new front in its fight against terrorism in the region. Militant outfits like the LTTE are known to use pirated ships for transporting arms and ammunition. The coast guard has made a request for more patrol vessels equipped with the latest technology that would add depth to its ability to track down ships in Indian territorial waters."

Former spy of India’s Research and Analysis Wing B.Raman wrote in 2005, "Maritime counter-terrorism experts now look on the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean region as highly vulnerable, if not the most vulnerable, to such catastrophic acts of maritime terrorism. Among factors influencing their perceptions are: First, the presence in this region of terrorist or insurgent organizations with proven or suspected capabilities for maritime operations. Among the organizations that come to mind are the LTTE, with proven capabilities for maritime operations, ………"

Dr. Vijay Shakuja, a maritime security Analyst and Research Fellow of the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi said: "Although waters off Sri Lanka have generally remained free from piracy, the northeastern waters have witnessed frequent acts of piracy. LTTE rebel forces are reported to hijack ships and boats of all sizes and kidnapping and killing of crewmembers is a common practice.

There is also evidence of hijacked vessels in the LTTE fleet. For instance, M V Sik Yang, a 2,818-ton, Malaysian-flag cargo ship, was reported missing. The ship sailed from Tuticorin, India on May 25, 1999 with a cargo of bagged salt and was due on May 31 at the Malaysian port of Malacca. The fate of the ship's crew of 15 is unknown. The vessel was apparently hijacked by the LTTE and may be engaged as a phantom vessel. A June 30,1999 report confirmed that the vessel had been hijacked by the LTTE. In yet another case, a ship with a cargo of 32,000 mortar shells from Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI) left the Mozambican port of Beira on May 23, 1997 supposedly en route to Colombo, Sri Lanka. The consignment belonged to the Sri Lankan government. The ship did not reach its destination. ZDI assumed that the Sri Lankan government had sent a ship to collect the munitions, but the company alleged that the consignment was loaded onto a ship called the Limassol, one of the LTTE freighters.

In some cases, the LTTE has not been so successful. A case in point is the ship that anchored off Cochin port in South India in 1993. The vessel was carrying a consignment of AK-47 rifles from a Russian company supposedly for the Ministry of Defence (MOD) of the Government of India. The Captain had informed the port authorities of the cargo and the consignee. The MOD denied having ordered any such consignment. Enquiries revealed that a person, who had visited the company’s headquarters in Moscow posing as a senior official of the MOD with forged identity papers, had ordered the consignment. He had the payment for the consignment made by a bank remittance from New York.

Nobody claimed the consignment and it was confiscated. The Indian authorities strongly suspected LTTE had ordered the consignment and its plans to effect a mid-sea transfer from the ship to one of its own smaller vessels had failed.

In the past, the LTTE has hijacked several vessels. Some of the reported cases relate to the hijacking of Irish Mona (August 1995), Princess Wave (August 1996), Athena (May 1997), Misen (July 1997), Morong Bong (July 1997), Cordiality (Sept 1997) and Princess Kash (August 1998). M V Cordiality, was captured by the LTTE and five Chinese crew were killed allegedly by Sri Lankan terrorists near the port of Trincomalee.13Princess Kash, a Belize flagged general cargo vessel was hijacked by LTTE rebels, while on its way to Mullaitivu, a LTTE stronghold. The Sri Lankan Air Force bombed the vessel to prevent the ship's cargo falling into the hands of the LTTE. The status of the 22-crew members is still not known.

In recent times, this distinction between piracy and terrorism seems to be fast eroding. For instance, in August 2001, a general cargo carrier M V Ocean Silver, while transiting through the Malacca Strait, was seized by the Aceh rebels. The six crewmembers of the vessel were taken hostage. The rebels issued a warning that all ships transiting through the straits between Sumatra Island and Malaysia must first get permission from the insurgents. Earlier, in May 2001, Thai police captured a consignment of 15,000bullets, grenades, landmines and TNT explosive devices destined for the Aceh rebels. Two Thai army sergeants in southern Thailand were arrested.

The Aceh rebels continued their efforts to acquire more weaponry and in the process, in November 2002, the Indonesian navy sank two ships that had been seized from Thai fishermen by separatist rebels to smuggle arms to Aceh. The case of the LTTE has already been illustrated above.

Piracy in the Indian sub continent continues unabated but is restricted to respective countries territorial waters. There however is no mechanism for regional approach to combating piracy. The agreements are restricted to bilateral arrangements, which appear to have worked well. It must be remembered that piracy is only one component of "disorder at sea" and South Asian countries need to follow an integrated approach to challenge, disorder at sea."

- Asian Tribune -

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