Tigers blunder and sink Chinese trawler in revenge attack
By Our Defence Correspondent
The "Lanka Muditha" is a vessel owned by the Ceylon Shipping Corporation, which has been carrying military supplies for many years from Colombo to Jaffna for the use of troops stationed there. The ship had sailed from Colombo on Thursday and was in the general area that the Sea Tiger boats attacked the Chinese vessel at approximately 4 a.m. on Thursday.
The Lanka Muditha had an uneventful trip, and docked at Kankesanthurai a few hours later at 11 a.m.
Meanwhile 17 sailors from the Chinese trawler "Fung Yung Yu 225" are still missing, including 16 Chinese and one Sri Lankan. Eight other Chinese and one Sri Lankan who were on board were plucked from the sea and brought to Trincomalee by another Chinese ship, Fung Yung Yu 226, which was sailing with the ill-fated Fung Yung Yu 225, when it was attacked in international waters 16 nautical miles off Chundikulam which is on the border of the Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts.
If the 16 Chinese sailors are not found alive, it will be the most serious attack on non-combatant foreign nationals during the entire history of the war.
The surviving Chinese sailors were wounded by LTTE gunfire, and were admitted to the Trincomalee Naval Hospital. Three of them are in critical condition and the government is likely to airlift them to Colombo in a Sri Lanka Air Force helicopter over the weekend. The Chinese government immediately demanded that a full investigation be made into the incident.
The LTTE has denied any involvement in the cold-blooded murder on the high seas. But eye-witness reports of the survivors of Fung Yung Yu 225 and sailors on board Fung Yung Yu 226, leave no room for doubt that it was the work of the Sea Tigers. Survivors said that they screamed to the attackers in English that they were Chinese, but that the attackers had continued to shoot at them even while they were swimming in the water. The Sri Lankan sailor who survived said that the attackers had been speaking in Tamil.
The attacking boats were clearly not vessels of the Sri Lanka Navy, and had used rocket-propelled-grenades that are usually used by the Sea Tigers. They had also used machine guns.
A day after the attack, negotiators from the government and the LTTE in Hakone, Japan released a statement through the Norwegian government, that they would be convening a meeting of senior naval and political leaders of both sides within the next three weeks to work out the operations of their respective naval units, in order to avoid incidents such as last weeks sinking of a Sea Tiger arms ship, and the self-destruction of a Sea Tiger boat carrying guns off Delft island last month.
Defence Ministry officials believe that the Sea Tigers were searching for the Lanka Muditha, when they came upon the two Chinese trawlers, which had their navigation lights on as required by international maritime law. It is also believed that the Sea Tigers attacked the Chinese trawler since it was flying a Sri Lankan flag. The Fung Yung Yu 225 was owned by the Yong Feng Fishery Corporation Ltd, which is registered with the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka, with its local agent being Ceylon Ship Suppliers Co. Ltd. The company is registered for fishing in Sri Lankas Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ), which stretches 200 nautical miles from the coastline, hence the fact that its ships fly Sri Lankan flags. The ships had been operating in various areas around Sri Lankas coast for more than a year.
Gunboats of the Sri Lanka Navy were rushed to the scene from Trincomalee with a monitor of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission on board, but did not get there for several hours, and the Sea Tiger boats had vanished from the scene. Navy warships escorted the Fung Yung Yu 226 to Trincomalee.
The LTTEs website Tamilnet quickly denied the Tigers involvement in the attack, and published the following story:
"The Liberation Tigers Friday denied accusations by the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) that they were involved in the sinking of a Taiwanese trawler about 40 km off the Mullaittivu coast. International monitors were investigating the incident in which seventeen Taiwanese sailors are said to have died. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) said information was sketchy and investigations were continuing."
"Sea Tiger commanders said Friday that they had been informed by the SLMM late Thursday night that a trawler was reported to be sinking by the Sri Lanka Navy and had been asked by the monitors if Sea Tiger units were in the area."
"The LTTE had informed the SLMM that none of their gunboats were in the area, which is being patrolled by Sri Lankan gunboats enforcing a naval blockade against LTTE-held territory. The LTTE had also informed the SLMM that they were not involved in the incident in any way, LTTE officials told TamilNet Friday."
"Sources close to the SLMM said monitors had not received evidence to back up the Navys accusation against the LTTE. The captain of the sunken trawler was among the survivors, but he had refused to discuss the incident with the SLMM at this stage."
"Meanwhile, there were conflicting reports regarding the incident. Initial reports had said a trawler flying a Taiwanese flag had been sunk leading to the death of seventeen people and the wounding of nine. Survivors are said to have been recovered by the Navy."
"However subsequent reports reaching the SLMM said there were two trawlers in the area and one had sunk, its survivors being picked up by the other trawler. There were no details of what had caused the incident and investigations were continuing, sources close to the SLMM said."
"Ten days ago the Sri Lanka Navy attacked and destroyed an LTTE-owned merchant vessel in international waters over 220 miles from the islands eastern coast."
"The incident was taken up for discussion in the sixth round of peace talks between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government which concluded in Hakone, Japan Friday. Delegates discussed the tension at sea amid reports the Sri Lanka Navy had intensified patrols off LTTE-controlled shores on the islands east."
Following is the part of the statement by the Norwegian government regarding naval issues at the sixth session of peace talks in Hakone:
"The parties met amid growing security concerns following recent incidents on land and at sea. While they acknowledged that parallel progress is needed in negotiations on security, economic and political issues, the parties left no doubt that they must now give top priority to improving the security situation, in particular at sea. The parties undertook to enforce better compliance with the ceasefire agreement by their personnel."
"The Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE are deeply concerned about the latest incidents at sea, including on 10 March. To prevent future incidents at sea that could threaten the stability of the ceasefire, the parties have agreed to convene senior naval and political representatives from both sides within three weeks to work out effective arrangements for the operation of naval units in keeping with existing treaty obligations. The meeting will be convened by the Royal Norwegian Government and the Head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) and will immediately start preparing the meeting with military leaders on both sides. The parties agree to instruct their naval units to exercise restraint, as required by the Ceasefire Agreement, and to avoid provocative actions in the crucial period Prior to the establishment of appropriate procedures."
"In this context, the parties agreed to strengthen the mandate and capacity of the SLMM to undertake preventive measures to avoid serious incidents at sea and on land. As a fundamental precondition for the SLMM to take on a stronger role, the parties pledged to ensure full compliance with the rulings of the SLMM guarantee the security of its personnel in all situations, and take disciplinary action against anyone endangering the lives of SLMM personnel."
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