ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 40

Hot pursuit ends in explosive find

By Asif Fuard

The Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) has intensified surveillance operations in the Exclusive Economic Zone which is 200 nautical miles off the Sri Lanka coast in a bid to curtail the LTTE’s illegal arms smuggling operations.

The Tiger vessel on fire

The move comes in the backdrop of the Sri Lanka Navy destroying a Tamil-Tiger-owned vessel which was trafficking arms 185 nautical miles south of the Dondara Point in Matara on Wednesday (February 28).

The SLN is investigating the origin of the vessel and in which country the weapons were manufactured. The arms which the vessel had been carrying are now being recovered by the SLN divers and are in the process of being examined.

The SLN divers have so far recovered 130mm, 152mm, 120mm artillery; high speed motors used in Sea Tiger suicide boats, 10,000 tons of arms and explosive devices, ammunition shells and rebel communication devices.

The SLN believes that the ship had also contained Surface to Air Missiles. A naval source said that under the directions and supervision of Navy Commander Wasantha Karannagoda, the Navy had been tracking the movements of the LTTE ship for one year.

On Wednesday at about 6.30 in the morning, an SLN ship which has blue water capability to cover wide ocean terrain picked up a signal on the radar in the ships main control of a suspicious 75 metre-long vessel which was coming from the direction of Indonesia and had been moving towards the Sri Lankan territorial waters at a speed of six nautical miles.

The naval officer in the room discovered that the suspicious ship which was gaining momentum and had been continuing to move towards Sri Lanka did not have a name, International Maritime Organisation registration number or a national flag to identify the origin of the vessel.

The SLN ship had then communicated with the suspicious vessel through maritime frequency channel “16”and had asked the person in the control room in the vessel to identify itself and its locality.

The person in the vessel had then responded to the SLN by providing its identification.

The SLN ship had then checked with its naval headquarters in Colombo if the information provided by the suspicious ship was accurate. However the naval headquarters told the SLN ship that the information provided by the suspicious ship was inaccurate. At that point the ship had been gaining momentum and was getting closer to Sri Lanka. The SLN officer in the control room in the navy ship attempted to contact the suspicious ship to ask them to move towards the Galle harbor to inspect it. The persons in the suspicious ship did not respond when they were contacted by the SLN officer.

The SLN ship had then fired warning shots at the suspicious ship and had asked it to stop. At that point it altered its course and started to move away from Sri Lanka. The SLN ship along with another ship which also had blue water capability started pursuing the suspicious ship.

The suspicious ship which was at that point 185 nautical miles away from Sri Lanka’s coast had then fired back at the two SLN ships with light weapons. The two SLN ships had then fired and managed to destroy the ship which turned into a ball of flame at around 8.30 a.m.

The fire had been blazing for several hours and about 16 suspected Tamil Tiger arms smugglers were believed to have been killed in the naval pursuit.

The Tiger vessel is believed to have been moving towards Sri Lanka expecting a cluster of Sea Tiger boats camouflaged as fishing trawlers that were to pick up the smuggled weapons at a given destination. However, the discovery of the Tiger ship by the SLN sent their plans awry.

An SLN top official who spoke to The Sunday Times on grounds of anonymity said they believed that the confrontation between the SLN and the Sea Tigers off the coast of Pulmudai last Tuesday (February 27) night was merely a diversion to traffic the weapons brought by the Tiger ship.

In the Pulmudai battle two Sea Tiger boats out of the 14 that had taken part in the confrontation had been destroyed.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.