Trawler blown-up while being towed by SLN - SLMM

[TamilNet, Monday, 10 February 2003, 12:15 GMT]
Clarifying the Delft sea incident, where three Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cadres killed themselves, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) in a press release issued from Colombo today, admitted to providing either incomplete or incorrect information during the early stages of the developments, and said that in a second inspection they found a new 23-mm gunbarrel and additional munition in the trawler, and that the trawler was blown up while it was being towed by the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) boat towards a port in the SLN controlled area.

Full text of the press release follows:

"Subject: The Tragic Delft Incident - Course of Events

Around 14.00 on Thursday February 6th the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) was requested to assist the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) that had intercepted a trawler being towed by a speedboat with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) crew on board, South of Delft Island off the Northwest coast of Sri Lanka. Initial information from the SLN to SLMM in Jaffna was that the "LTTE was about to board an Indian type trawler by force". SLN was about to intercept the two boats and requested for the presence of a SLMM monitor. One SLMM Monitor arrived on the scene on board a SLN vessel 3 Nautical miles south of Delft Island at 16.00 hours. The trawler's engine was not working and it was anchored. The Captain on board the LTTE speedboat stated that both boats belonged to the LTTE and the trawler was being towed to the shore by the speedboat since its engine had broken down while fishing.

The LTTE crews threatened to commit suicide if the SLN would attempt to inspect their boats, but welcomed inspections by SLMM. The speedboat had 12 persons on board, was open and without a wheelhouse and was easily inspected. After SLMM's inspection, the speedboat was declared clean of any illegal items according to the Ceasefire Agreement and was allowed by SLN to leave the area around 17.00 hours. The SLMM monitor surveyed the wheelhouse, hull, fish-hold and other open compartments of the trawler and found no illegal items in these areas. However, the monitor stated that the assistance of another SLMM monitor would be needed to deal with the situation and so a second monitor arrived with a SLN vessel from Jaffna at 19.00 hours. At this time there were 3 SLN vessels on the scene and the LTTE trawler was still anchored. The trawler was approached in the dark, with the searchlight on the SLN vessel lighting up the scene. The SLMM monitors stated that now, one SLN officer would come on board to inspect the trawler along with the two SLMM Monitors. The LTTE crew threatened to put the trawler on fire and again threatened to commit suicide if SLN would take part in the inspection. The SLN vessel, with the SLMM monitors on board, subsequently withdrew from the trawler.

On Thursday evening the Head of SLMM was in direct contact with the Peace delegations of the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE in Berlin and ordered the monitors to wait for further instructions. The Government peace delegation accepted that SLMM would be allowed to inspect the trawler on their own and the LTTE peace delegation agreed on that solution. A condition for this solution was that it would not set any precedence for future inspections. This agreement was relayed to the monitors on board the SLN vessel at 01.15 early morning of Friday 7th.

At 07.00 hours in the morning of Friday, February 7th, the two SLMM Monitors boarded the trawler to do the full inspection. Their Tamil interpreter stayed on the SLN vessel lying alongside the trawler and translated the discussions between the SLMM Monitors and the three members of the LTTE trawler crew. The monitors stated that they were doing this inspection according to an agreement made by the both Peace delegations in Berlin. The trawler was thoroughly inspected. Dry and clean fishing nets were on the front deck but no fish or signs of fishing activities were noted on board. By measuring the compartments on the trawler, the monitors realized that a hidden compartment of approximately one meter length and as wide as the trawler, was below deck. At 07.30 hours one monitor went into the fish-hold where he removed a new wooden panel with new nails and thus broke through a false wall into a hidden compartment below deck. In this compartment the following items were stored:
  • a) 1 X 23MM Gun barrel (built as Anti-Aircraft).
  • b) 1 X Complete Mechanism for the 23MM Barrel.
  • c) 1 X Complete steel mounting for the 23MM gun.
  • d) Several hundred rounds of 23MM ammunition in a plastic barrel and 2 metal boxes.
  • e) Several hundred rounds of AK47 assault rifle ammunition in a sealed metal container.
The gun barrel and the mechanism were wrapped in clean cotton cloth bags and plastic sheeting fitting these items. The steel mounting for the 23MM gun is designed to be bolted on a flat deck with bolts. The LTTE speedboat that was towing the trawler did not have any bedding for the type of gun and steel mounting found on the trawler. On the other hand, the speedboat only had a fixed tripod useable for a light machine gun. In addition to the items mentioned above, 3 X hand grenades were on the boat; one found in the wheelhouse and two handed over to the SLMM monitors by the LTTE crew. The monitors photographed both LTTE boats on the scene and the above-mentioned items. The monitors stated that transporting these items was a clear violation of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) as the agreement signed by both parties states the following: "the parties shall not move munitions or military equipment into the area controlled by the other Party." (Art. 1.7 CFA) and "The Sri Lankan armed forces shall continue to perform their legitimate task of safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, without engaging in offensive operations against the LTTE." (Art. 1.3 CFA). The SLMM Monitors put the hand grenades in a box and handed it over to the SLN vessel as a safety precaution.

At 09.00 the Head of SLMM had informed both Peace Delegations in Berlin about the findings of SLMM. When asked for suggestions, Head of SLMM suggested the following:
  1. The trawler should be towed to the nearest port by the SLN.
  2. SLN would confiscate the military equipment and do their own inspection of the trawler.
  3. SLMM should be responsible for the three LTTE cadres and transport them in a SLMM vehicle to the LTTE controlled territory.
This suggestion of SLMM was to be discussed promptly by the Peace delegations in Berlin and their decision was awaited. Around 11.00 hours the sea south of Delft was getting more rough, weather was worsening and it started to rain. It was agreed between the SLMM Monitors and the officer in charge of the SLN vessel, that due to these conditions, the trawler should be towed closer to the island of Delft. The SLMM monitors stayed on the trawler with the LTTE cadres and stated that they would stay with them all the time and they would not be handed over to the SLN. One LTTE crewmember assisted the monitors in cutting the anchor line and at 11.30 the SLN started towing the trawler in direction of Delft. Around 12.00 hours the SLN vessel stopped 4,4 Nautical miles south of Delft and relayed a message from LTTE in Kilinochchi via SLMM in Jaffna and SLN KKS Naval base that the LTTE crew should contact their Headquarters via radio. At 12.05 one of the LTTE crewmembers got in contact with his Headquarters through the radio on board the trawler and had a 15 minutes conversation. The SLMM Monitors overheard the Tamil conversation. They could not understand it, but the communications through the radio were both loud and clear. Around 12.20 the radio conversation was over. Just before the conversation was finished one LTTE crewmember went to the back of the trawler. Just as the conversation was over, a second crewmember already had a bottle and a lighter in his hands inside the wheelhouse. One monitor took the lighter from him and threw it into the sea. At the same moment the SLMM monitors saw that all the back of the trawler was already on fire. Then the monitors ran to the front of the trawler and jumped into the sea. The monitors were in the sea for 10-15 minutes until they were picked up by the SLN vessel. According to the SLN personnel and the SLMM interpreter on board the SLN vessel, the LTTE crewmembers took their own lives while the monitors were in the sea. The Head of SLMM informed the Peace delegations in Berlin about this a few minutes later. The SLN vessel stayed on the scene for approximately 2 _ hours with the monitors on board and then headed to KKS naval base in Jaffna. When the monitors left, two SLN vessels were left on the scene with the trawler still burning.

During an incident in the same area in July 2002 two SLMM Monitors were held against their will on a LTTE trawler, while it escaped a SLN vessel. After that, the SLMM decided, that as a general rule, SLMM Monitors would not board LTTE boats except for monitoring inspections done by SLN and during pre-arranged Sea Movements of LTTE agreed by the Government of Sri Lanka. SLMM did not follow this rule during the events South of Delft, in order to diffuse the situation created when the LTTE crew threatened to commit suicide. It should be underlined that the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE leadership agreed that SLMM would inspect the LTTE trawler south of Delft and that this arrangement was an exemption from the general rule that SLN should inspect LTTE boats with SLMM only monitoring the inspection.

Both the SLN crews and the LTTE crews behaved in a professional and cooperative manner with SLMM from the beginning of these events until the trawler was set on fire. SLMM takes responsibility for either incomplete or incorrect information that it gave out during the early stages of these developments. This should serve as a correction to earlier reports, including initial verbal reports on the trawler having an Indian registration and information that the SLMM interpreter had been on the trawler when it was set on fire.

The two monitors involved in this incident and the whole of SLMM would like to convey its deepest sympathy to the families of the three men who lost their lives on Friday the 7th of February."

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