French tanker saves 28 Lankans from watery grave

Australian media given access to rescued people on-board warship



By Shamindra Ferdinando


A French Tanker, MT Famenne, rescued 28 Sri Lankans, including four women and a five-year-old child from a watery grave on the high seas in the wake of a spat between Navy Commander Vice Admiral Somathilake Dissanayake and Australian High Commissioner Robyn Mudie, as regards Sri Lanka’s alleged failure to prevent the launch of trawlers carrying those seeking political asylum Down Under.


Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) SLNS Samudura on Saturday night received the rescued Sri Lankans, 20 nautical miles south of Galle, in the presence of the Australian media.


The French vessel, which was on its way to China from the UAE, rescued the Sri Lankans on July 26 following an SLN alert, though the multi-day fishing trawler, ‘Star Brothers 2’ couldn’t be saved.


At the invitation of Vice Admiral Dissanayake, New Delhi-based Amanda Hodge, of The Australian and Paul Raffaele of the Channel 7 Australia, had the opportunity to join the SLNS Samudura crew for a firsthand experience in the transferring of the rescued Sri Lankans.


Raffaele confirmed the midnight transfer, though he politely declined to comment on the situation. He was also given the opportunity to interview Vice Admiral Dissanayake.


Asked why only the Australian media was given preferential treatment, SLN spokesman Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya said that the navy felt that as the Australian media was here especially to cover the issue of bogus refugees, they should be given access to those who had risked their lives to reach Australia. The SLN spokesman emphasized that they had deployed a sizeable force to intercept trawlers carrying illegal immigrants, though some vessels obviously managed to slip through.


Ms Hodge and Raffaele arrived in Colombo in the wake of The Island exclusive ‘Deportation only antidote to human smuggling’ in the July 21 issue on the basis of an interview with Vice Admiral Dissanayake.


Dissanayake said that he had first received information regarding ‘Star Brothers 2’ drifting about 200 nautical miles off Sri Lanka from the Australian High Commissioner Mudie on July 2, though she was reluctant to give the exact location.


The vessel had left Valachchenai on June 13 before it developed engine trouble after proceeding 300 nautical miles on July 15 following a month’s sailing in rough seas. The French tanker rescued the Sri Lankans on July 26 and handed them over to SLNS Samudura at midnight on June 28.


The rescued comprised 26 Tamils, including four women and one child and two Muslims.


Just hours after SLNS Samudura, formerly of the US Coast Guard, reached the Galle harbour, the navy intercepted another multi-day trawler, ‘Shayan Putha 2’ off Negombo. The navy said that the Australia bound vessel had 31 persons on board. The detection was made while the trawler was waiting for another boat to bring 20 more people from Lellama to join the journey. The two groups comprised 31 Tamils, 19 Sinhalese and one Muslim.


Commander Warnakulasuriya said that during the month of July alone the navy had arrested 505 Sri Lankans trying to reach Australia.


Responding to a series of queries posed to the Australian HC, a spokesperson said that Australia appreciated the Sri Lankan Government’s efforts to stop the highly dangerous and exploitative business of people-smuggling.


The official declined to comment on the deliberations, HC Mudie had with Vice Admiral Dissanayake. "The Australian High Commission does not comment on the substance of official discussions," the official said.


The navy said that the Australian media were also given access to the operation conducted at Negombo.


Authoritative sources said that Australia’s decision to deport failed Sri Lankan asylum seeker Dayan Anthony last week would discourage those trying to reach Australia through illegal means. Sources said that unexpected deportation had brought pressure on human smugglers. Sources dismissed media reports that there been a warrant issued on the deportee as he was allegedly involved with the LTTE. Intelligence services cleared Anthony of any complicity in terrorism, though a section of the Australian media portrayed him as an LTTE operative. Sources said that Anthony had been already cleared and handed over to his parents.


Sri Lankans account for 22 percent of the 5,815 people currently in Australian asylum-seeker detention, second only to Afghanistan in terms of numbers.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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