Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Peacetime sinking of a ship We Ling affair




By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Navy, on the morning of March 26, 2018, sank We Ling (aka 522) in the Western seas. The vessel had been taken in soon after its crew abandoned it off Pottuvil, Battticaloa, at the height of eelam war IV (Aug 2006-May 2009).

The foreign crew had abandoned the vessel due to the undue delay on the part of the owners in providing required assistance, following a serious engine trouble. Fearing the Sea Tigers could make an attempt to seize We Ling, the Navy had towed the vessel to the Colombo port and subsequently made an abortive bid to hand it over back to the Singaporean management.

In late Dec, 2006, the Sea Tigers seized Jordanian ship MV Farah III, off Mullaitivu, and subsequently used it as a ‘heavy gun point’ until the very end of the conflict, three years later.

Having failed to convince the owners of We Ling to pay for the cost of towing the vessel away from the Eastern seas and later repairing the ship, the Navy used it. The Navy called it 522.

The Navy took charge of We Ling during the tenure of the then Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda as the Commander of the Navy (Sept. 1, 2005 to July 15, 2009).

The sinking of the vessel wouldn’t have captured the front pages of most national newspapers, on March 27, 2018, if the Navy didn’t claim the vessel belonged to the LTTE. A section of the media wrongly claimed We Ling had been brought from Malaysia, where Prabhakaran’s successor, Kumaran Pathmanathan alias "KP’ was arrested, in August 2009, and brought to Colombo. The writer had an opportunity to interview Pathmanathan, exclusively.

The sinking of the vessel received heavy television coverage, as well, with both print and electronic media reporting the circumstances under which the Navy had seized the vessel. The coverage was entirely based on Navy statements in Sinhala, Tamil and English, posted on its website on the morning of March 26, 2018, and other comments.

A section of the media went onto claim that the vessel that had been sunk, in the Western seas, along with several bullet proof vehicles used by former VVIPs, was the one captured on information received from Pathmanathan, who now lives quietly in one-time LTTE stronghold Kilinochchi.

Malaysia handed over Pathmanathan to Sri Lanka, in early August 2009, several months after combined security forces brought the nearly three-year-old offensive to a successful conclusion.

The Army killed Prabhakaran on the morning of May 19, 2009 on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.

The Island, in a report, on page 2 on March 27, 2018, edition, pointed out that We Ling had been found off Pottuvil, Batticaloa, during eelam war IV, hence there was absolutely no connection between the ship and Pathmanathan.

Joint DMI-Navy operation

Of course, the media was erroneously referring to the LTTE ship, Princess Cristina, that had been taken over in foreign waters, in Dec 2009, and brought to the Colombo port during the third week of Dec, 2009. That vessel was seized by the Navy during a clandestine operation, the first of its kind, conducted during the tenure of Vice Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe (July 15, 2009 to January 14, 2011) as the Commander of the Navy. The Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) played an important role in the operation leading to the Navy taking over the vessel. The writer was among those scribes invited on-board the LTTE vessel when Navy Chief Samarasinghe welcomed the Navy crew led by the then Captain (now Commodore) D.K.P. Dassanayake – responsible for the LTTE vessel’s capture.

Princess Cristina was the only LTTE vessel captured by the Navy during the entire conflict.

As the only captured LTTE vessel had been later sold for scrap metal, years before current Navy Chief Vice Admiral Sirimevan Ranasinghe succeeded Vice Admiral Travis Sinniah, in late Oct 2017, the vessel sunk in the Western seas was certainly not an LTTE vessel. Of course, Sinniah has been credited with leading the Navy Task Force, assigned to hunt down LTTE vessels during Karannagoda’s leadership.

It would be pertinent to mention that on the day the Navy sank We Ling, the second Advanced Offshore Patrol Vessel (AOPV), acquired from India, arrived at the Colombo harbour at. 9.40 am. The AOPV built at the Goa Shipyard Limited was ordered during the previous SLFP-led UPFA administration.

Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Sirimevan Ranasinghe, Deputy Chief of Staff and Director General Operations of the Navy, Rear Admiral Piyal De Silva, Commander Western Naval Area, Rear Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne, Naval Secretary and Secretary to the Commander of the Navy, Rear Admiral Vijitha Meddegoda, Director Naval Operations, Commodore Sanjeewa were among those who had been present at the Colombo port at the time of the vessel reaching Colombo. Sri Lanka took delivery of the first AOPV last year.

Subsequently, the Navy removed the web report that had been originally posted on March 27, along with two other reports – one dealt with the arrival of the second AOPV at the Colombo harbour and the other with the disaster management stimulation exercise, conducted at Kalpitiya.

Instead of trying to hush up the We Ling affair, the Navy should have at least corrected its website report. The failure on the part of the media, too, to essentially verify an important story, is shocking. Various websites, too, attributed the sinking of the LTTE ship to Navy statements. The following are some of the headlines on May 27, 2018, national newspapers and websites: * VIP bullet proof vehicles, LTTE ship dumped in the sea by Navy * Sri Lanka Navy sinks captured LTTE vessel *Sri Lanka Navy sinks ship used by LTTE *Navy sinks damaged LTTE vessel et al.

In spite of several attempts, the writer couldn’t obtain a plausible explanation from those responsible for the original claim of the LTTE vessel being sunk as Sri Lanka couldn’t find a scrap metal buyer.

Nearly a decade after Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE, the country is still struggling to present its case here and abroad. The War-winning Rajapaksa administration neglected its duty to counter wrong, misleading claims and misinterpretation of facts for the benefit of those working overtime to haul Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes tribunal.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government co-sponsored a resolution at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), on Oct 2015, to pave the way for a hybrid court, comprising local and foreign judges, including those representing the Commonwealth.

Erroneous reportage of the We Ling affair should be examined against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s shameless and disappointing failure to counter propaganda.

Sri Lanka pays heavy price

No less a person than President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, Maithripala Sirisena, was reminded of Sri Lanka’s unpardonable failure, by Lord Naseby, when the latter visited him at the hotel where the Sri Lankan delegation, participating at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2018, was staying. Lord Naseby hadn’t minced its words when he said the UNHRC and Europe hadn’t been told of the situation in Sri Lanka during the war and after. In other words, Lord Naseby pointed out that Sri Lanka hadn’t made use of disclosure made by him in the House of Lords, in Oct. 2017, pertaining to the situation on the Vanni front on the basis of wartime British HC dispatches. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government should be ashamed of its failure.

President Sirisena was assisted by Senior SLFP Vice President and Transport and Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala and our Acting High Commissioner Sugeeswara Gunaratne. The Sri Lankan delegation had nothing to say regarding Lord Naseby’s disclosures. The government shouldn’t hoodwink those who contributed to Sri Lanka’s magnificent victory over the LTTE. The Sri Lankan delegation hadn’t commented on Lord Naseby disclosures as it didn’t even refer to them at the recently concluded 37 Sessions of the UNHRC.

The previous administration and the current dispensation owed explanations to the people as to why they had neglected their responsibilities for nearly a decade. Our parliament had failed to take tangible measures to have Lord Naseby’s revelations examined even seven months after British High Commission dispatches were placed before the House of Lords.

Sri Lanka’s failure facilitated Tamil Diaspora-TNA-Western powers project to call for a new Constitution, subjected to a Referendum, to meet the aspirations of the Tamil community. Strangely, their battle-field defeat has made the project possible due to the support extended by some sections in parliament.

For want of a cohesive strategy on Sri Lanka’s part, the LTTE rump continued with its highly publicized protest campaign targeting the country. A day after meeting Lord Naseby, President Sirisena faced protests by supporters of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) against his visit at the Commonwealth Summit premises, near Buckingham Palace.

The Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) said that it launched a campaign titled "#GoBackMY3" against Sirisena’s participation at the CHOGM.

The TGTE urged the CHOGM to suspend Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth, until Sri Lanka fully implemented the recommendations made by the UNHRC.

Depending on Sri Lanka’s response, the TGTE said that Sri Lanka should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and a UN conducted Referendum for the Tamils to decide their future and to ensure a peaceful, permanent political solution.

The British government turned a blind eye to TGTE displaying LTTE flags. Sri Lanka lacked courage at least to point out the illegality of the UK allowing terrorist organization’s flags before Commonwealth leaders. Banners declared Sri Lanka President wanted for genocide, Tamil Eelam is the only solution, UK stop protecting genocidal Sri Lanka, Let Tamils decide referendum now, Justice delayed justice denied, Tamils want action not words, We don’t want a Constitution, final solution is Tamil Eelam, where are the surrendered?

Sirisena faced similar protests in May 2016 when he visited London to attend anti corruption summit.

However, last week’s protest was the first instance where LTTE flags were displayed, since the UK forced Sri Lanka, in Feb. 2018, to recall Brigadier Priyanka Fernando Minister Counsellor (Defence) attached to the Sri Lanka High Commission in London, over a gesture the Gemunu Watch officer made in response to LTTE supporters provocative actions, outside Sri Lanka High Commission in the UK.

Thanks to Wiki Leaks disclosure of confidential US embassy dispatches from London, the world knows how British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, played politics with Sri Lanka’s conflict. The revelation of US cables, in Dec. 2010, never moved the previous government that acted as if they didn’t exist. The Rajapaksa administration shirked its responsibility.

A leaked May 2009 cable, from the US embassy, in London, quoted the official, Tim Waite, a Foreign Office team leader on Sri Lanka, as having explained Miliband’s intense focus on the plight of the country’s Tamils in terms of the UK electoral geography.

"Waite said that much of [Her Majesty’s government] and ministerial attention to Sri Lanka is due to the ‘very vocal’ Tamil diaspora in the UK, numbering over 300,000, who have been protesting in front of parliament, since 6 April," Richard Mills, a political officer at the US embassy, reported.

"He said that with the UK elections on the horizon and many Tamils living in Labour constituencies with slim majorities, the government is paying particular attention to Sri Lanka, with Miliband recently remarking to Waite that he was spending 60% of his time at the moment on Sri Lanka."

When Lord Naseby visited the writer and Prabath Sahabandu, the Editor-in-Chief of The Island, during the previous administration, the Conservative politician explained the Tamil Diaspora manipulations at the expense of Sri Lanka.

The Navy played a significant role in bringing the LTTE to its knees in May 2009. Had the Navy failed during the eelam War IV, the likes of Miliband wouldn’t have had to shed crocodile tears for the Tamil community. The British always mollycoddled the Diaspora for obvious reasons. The British, of course, valued their vote.

Theaters owned by Cineworld, Odeon and Vue, in August 2013, were forced to cancel screening of Shoojit Sircar’s Madras Cafe that dealt with India’s intervention in Sri Lanka leading to the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a teenage female suicide cadre of the LTTE. The UK gave into threats by UK citizens of Sri Lankan origin for domestic political reasons.

Obviously, the British didn’t want to upset the trouble makers.

Crippling LTTE supply lines

Against the backdrop of the Me Ling affair, let me remind the readers of the LTTE vessels sunk, beginning with MV Ahat (Yahata) on January 16, 1993. Having intercepted the LTTE vessel, on January 13, 1993, far from the Indian coast, Coast Guard Ship Vivek, backed by INS Kirpan, had forced the LTTE crew to bring it to a point, eight nautical miles off Ennore, north of Madras, to facilitate an inspection. The LTTE blew up the vessel to avoid capture of top LTTE cadres, Kittu and Kuttisri. However, the ill-fated vessel hadn’t been involved in a supply mission but Kitu was widely believed to be bringing in some peace proposals from Europe.

MV Horizon, sunk off Nayaru, on Feb. 14, 1996

MV Fratzescom, suck off Mullaitivu, on Nov 2, 1997

MV Mariamma, sunk 190 nm west of Nocobar, on March 11, 1998

MV Koimer, sunk off Mullaitivu, on March 10, 2003

MV Shoshin, sunk off Mullaitivu, on June 14, 2003

The last two above-mentioned vessels, destroyed during the tenure of Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri, threatened the Norway-led peace initiative. The Navy action triggered a fierce battle between the then PM Wickremesinghe and President Kumaratunga.

Having succeeded Sandagiri in early Sept. 2005, following a bruising battle, Karannagoda called off the longest running naval operation, called Waruna Kirana, meant to intercept LTTE sea supply routes heading towards Chalai and Mullaitivu. Launched in May 2001, the operation failed to meet its expectations. The Navy launched specific operations on the basis of intelligence made available by the DMI and foreign sources, particularly the US. Karannagoda, personally was involved in securing US intelligence support.

A vessel, without a name, was destroyed 120 nautical miles off Kalmunai on Sept 17, 2006. The SLAF carried out an attack in support of the Navy.

MV Kiyoi was destroyed 365 nautical miles south of Dondra on Feb 28, 2007

MV Seiyoo and another unidentified vessel were destroyed 825 nautical miles south east of Arugambay on March 18, 2007

MV Manyoshi and MV Seishin were destroyed 2200 km south east of Dondra on Sept 10, 2007

MV Koshia was destroyed south east of Dondra on Sept 11, 2007

MV Matsushima was destroyed 2600 south east of Dondra on Oct 7, 2007

An unknown vessel north east of Mullaitivu on Dec 20, 2008

By late Dec 2008, the LTTE lost its wherewithal to sustain sea supply routes to Chalai-Mullaitivu, as well as between north of Mannar and Tamil Nadu. Armed forces brought Paranthan under government control on Dec 31, 2008. Within 24 hours, armed forces secured Kilinochchi. In the wake of liberation of Kilinochchi, the Navy mounted massive operation involving over 100 vessels and smaller craft to thwart LTTE leader Prabhakaran fleeing the country. The SLAF stationed a pair of jets at the China Bay air base, Trincomalee to engage foreign vessels in case the LTTE mounted an operation to evacuate Prabhakaran. That rescue operation never materialized. The rest is history.