Friday, December 25, 2009

LTTE bought five ships during Eelam War IV

Admiral says SLN hunted down floating arsenals although its fleet was vulnerable

by Shamindra Ferdinando
An LTTE vessel recently seized and brought to Colombo by the Sri Lanka Navy had been among five ships acquired by the group during the Eelam War IV though they could not be used at least once to smuggle in weapons.

Unlike the eight LTTE-operated vessels hunted down on the high seas from September, 2006 to October, 2007, the fleet of five ships bought legitimately had been registered with Lloyds.

Government sources told The Island that most of the vessels, if not all were of Japanese origin and were bought through front companies. Sources said that the vessels, including the one brought to Colombo were constantly under surveillance during the war with the help of foreign intelligence services. A six-man SLN team comprised four officers and two men had stealthy infiltrated a harbour situated at a remote island in South East Asia about a month ago to take control of the 90-metre ship, sources said.

The LTTE had abandoned the vessel in April/May after failing in their bid to mount a rescue operation.

Former Navy Commander Admiral (Rtd) Wasantha Karannagoda yesterday told The Island that the LTTE threw some 6,000 rounds of mortars overboard from one of the ships at the last stages of the war. Once they knew that they could not breach the SLN blockade on the last LTTE stronghold at Mullaitivu, the enemy had no option but to discard their arsenal. He said that by early this year, the Sea Tigers lost their wherewithal to challenge the SLN not only on the high seas but coastal waters as well.

Government sources said that of the remaining four ships, one had been in the custody of Canada since October. Sources pointed out that unlike the vessel seized by the SLN, the ship now in Canadian custody had arrived at an Indian port after the end of the war in May. Sources said that the ship had left an Indian port last September before being intercepted in Canadian waters. Sources expressed confidence that Canada and India would cooperate on this issue in a bid to identify LTTE terrorists among the 76 persons, who tried to reach Canada illegally in the detained LTTE ship.

Sources said that they were in the process of tracking down LTTE assets, including remaining ships as part of an intelligence operation conducted under the purview of Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

Karannagoda told State-run Rupavahini, early this week that he obtained President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s approval to launch operations on the high seas as his old fleet of Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) could have been vulnerable. He revealed that they had to be ready for any eventuality as inclement weather could have caused trouble for the ageing fleet. "But the President gave us the approval," he said adding that only the President and the Defence Secretary knew exactly what was going on. He said that the bottom line is that their operations targeting eight LTTE ships could have gone wrong and SLN ships lost on the high seas in bad weather. The SLN hit LTTE ships in four separate operations far away from land.

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