Monitors says no evidence sunk ship carried weapons

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 18 March 2003, 09:42 GMT]
Concluding an investigation into the sinking last week of an LTTE-owned vessel by the Sri Lanka Navy, international ceasefire monitors Monday confirmed the ship was a merchant vessel and said there was no evidence it was carrying weapons as claimed by the Navy. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) said it had not been informed in time of the interception of the vessel by the Navy and could not rule on the incident as it occurred almost 200 miles from Sri Lanka’s shore, in area where the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea applied.

The full text of the SLMM press release follows:

Subject: LTTE Merchant ship sunk by Sri Lanka Navy - SLMM Determination

Course of Events – Versions of the Government and LTTE

At 10.00 on the morning of March 10th 2003 Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) received information from the Sri Lanka Government’s Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process, that the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) was engaged in a sea incident around 240 nautical miles off the East coast of Sri Lanka. The SLN was said to have intercepted an unknown merchant ship believed to be a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) vessel. Major General Tryggve Tellefsen, the Head of SLMM, immediately contacted the Sri Lanka Navy Commander and requested that the Navy would keep the merchant ship under close observation, maintain a certain distance from it and avoid any confrontation until a SLMM monitor had been moved to the scene. The Navy Commander informed the Head of SLMM that a firefight had already taken place between the vessels. At 10.10 SLMM contacted the LTTE Headquarters in Kilinochchi via telephone, and asked if LTTE had information on any LTTE vessel in this area. The question was to be relayed to the LTTE leadership as soon as possible.

According to the SLN report on the incident, “the Sri Lanka Navy received credible information on 09th March that a LTTE vessel carrying warlike material was approaching the Mullaitivu coast with the objective of unloading weapons at mid sea onto small boats.” According to SLMM interviews with members of the Eastern Naval Command and the Captain of the SLN vessel; “The suspicious vessel was visibly detected 185 miles from the coastline… …at 06.30 on the 10th March… and … The suspect vessel, which conformed to the intelligence received, was identified around 07.45… …at approximately 185 miles North East of Mullaitivu.” There was radio communications between the vessels. The SLN claims that the information from the LTTE crew on the ship’s cargo, registration and crew was characterized by discrepancies. The SLN also claims that the vessel did not have a national flag or a visible name on the ship and because it did not follow the SLN orders to stop; “The SLN vessel fired warning shots over the bow of the LTTE ship at approximately 09.00-09.30, and subsequently received fire from the LTTE merchant ship. The SLN fired back at the ship using all her weapons… and … the suspect vessel caught fire and became disabled around 10.30.”

At 12.00 the LTTE leadership contacted SLMM and confirmed that an LTTE merchant ship was engaged in a sea incident with the SLN. The LTTE stated to SLMM that; “the ship is sailing in international waters, the SLN has no right to intercept it and we ask SLMM to intervene.” In interviews with SLMM, LTTE later stated that;”this was a merchant tanker of approximately 700 tons, 8 meters wide and 61 meters long. It had 11 crewmembers, all members of the Sea Tigers, and was operated by an independent shipping company supporting LTTE financially. The ship had a legal cargo of diesel and was sailing in the direction of India. At 11.30 its position was 220 miles East of Trincomalee.” The LTTE has not been able to inform SLMM about the name and registration of the tanker or its port of departure.

The LTTE states that at approximately 14.00 it received a message from the tanker via the LTTE Sea Tigers, that it was “under attack, on fire and sinking.” The SLN states that the LTTE merchant vessel sank 195 miles East of Mullaitivu at 15.09. The sinking of the ship can be seen from the video produced by SLN. However, it still remains unexplained what actually caused the ship to sink.

SLMM Findings

SLMM inquiry team found around 30 fresh bullet marks on the superstructure and bridge of SLNS Sayura, the SLN vessel involved in the incident. SLMM inquiry team also met and questioned three servicemen of the SLNS Sayura, that were wounded in this incident, on their return from sea early morning 11th March. The SLN video taken by a SLN vessel arriving to the scene after 11.00 cannot be considered entirely impartial evidence, as it is taken and produced by one party to the conflict. However, on that video, the front and back of the hull of the LTTE merchant ship can be seen quite clearly. At the time of filming, no flag or name is visible and the same applies to the front of the bridge and the mast of the ship. On the other hand in the intelligence the SLN received on the LTTE merchant ship it is stated that the ships name is MV KOIMAR. The SLN report states “the suspect vessel… … conformed to the intelligence received”. On the SLN video it can also be seen that the LTTE merchant ship had isolated fires on the front deck, in front of the bridge and on the aft, until it sank.

Asked why SLMM was not informed and a monitor called to the scene, the Navy Commander, members of the Eastern Naval Command and the Captain of SLNS Sayura have stated that they did not know it was a LTTE vessel but were only informed about a “suspicious gun running vessel”. This is contradictory to the initial press release from the Ministry of Defence and also the SLN report on the incident, which both state “The SLN received credible information on 09th March that a LTTE vessel carrying warlike material was approaching the Mullaitivu coast”.

The Government of Sri Lanka accuses LTTE of carrying warlike material in a merchant vessel claming that the LTTE has violated paragraph 1.7 in the Ceasefire Agreement. Additionally the Government claims that LTTE has committed a breach of the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea, by neither flying a flag of any state nor displaying any name on the ship. The LTTE accuses the Government of Sri Lanka of engaging in an offensive operation against its commercial ship and thus, committing a breach of paragraph 1.3 in the Ceasefire Agreement. The LTTE claims that the incident happened 220 miles off the East coast and that the Government of Sri Lanka does not have any authority in international waters according to the abovementioned UN convention.


The Head of SLMM is the final authority to interpret the Ceasefire Agreement. However the Head of SLMM does not have authority to interpret the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It is the assessment of SLMM that both parties had enough time to inform the SLMM and to request SLMM to take immediate actions on this matter before the situation escalated and the actual confrontation took place. This is especially the case with the SLN, which has stated in their report that they had credible information on a LTTE vessel approaching the Mullaitivu coast already early on 09th March. Regrettably neither of the Parties informed SLMM until it was too late to prevent the clash. This is especially disappointing in the light that the Government of Sri Lanka and LTTE set up SLMM with the Ceasefire Agreement, in order to conduct impartial verification, inquiries into alleged violations and to assist them in the settlement of any dispute that might arise.

Both Parties have requested the Head of SLMM to give a ruling on this incident. SLMM first and foremost bases its rulings on first hand verification of its monitors and non-contradictory information given by both Parties. SLMM cannot say for sure if this incident could have been avoided. Similarly, SLMM has no proof if the cargo of the LTTE vessel was warlike material, like the Government of Sri Lanka has stated, or diesel, as the LTTE has stated. However, if the SLMM had been involved in this incident as an impartial monitor, it would no doubt be in a better position to make a ruling on the behaviour of the Parties and what took place. Most importantly, the outcome of the incident might have been different if SLMM had been involved earlier. With all this in mind, ruling only one of the Parties to be responsible for this specific incident is not possible.

To avoid similar incidents in the future, SLMM has advised the Parties to work out a safeguarding mechanism and procedures to be applied under such circumstances. SLMM has already informed the Parties about its availability to facilitate such a meeting between them and assistance in working out such procedures.

Major General Tryggve Tellefsen, Head of SLMM, states: “The Ceasefire between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has not been without difficulties, effort and tolerance of the two Parties and the people in Sri Lanka. But it remains in force. Eleven members of LTTE lost their lives off the East coast of Sri Lanka on the 10th of March. Four servicemen of the Sri Lanka Navy were wounded. The Ceasefire is still in force. I would like to convey my deepest sympathy to families of the cadres that lost their lives. I wish the wounded SLN servicemen quick recovery. The Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE leadership have once again shown their dedication to a negotiated settlement to this conflict. For that they deserve respect. We urge the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE leadership to respect the Ceasefire Agreement, avoid confrontations and refrain from any offensive military operations. You have created SLMM to monitor the implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement and assist in solving disputes that arise. Employ it as such. You have our unlimited support.”


Latest 15 Reports
04.02.24 15:40   Photo
சியோனிசம் காணும் தோல்வி ஈழத்தமிழருக்குப் பலன் தரவல்ல படிமை மாற்றத்தின் அறிகுறி
24.04.22 05:44  
தீவின் நெருக்கடிச் சூழலில் ஈழத்தமிழர் தேசம் கடைப்பிடிக்கவேண்டிய நிலைப்பாடுகள்
09.04.22 14:44   Photo
குறிதவறும் ஈழத்தமிழர் தலைமைகளுக்கு வரலாறு தருகின்ற எச்சரிக்கை
21.01.22 07:24   Photo
ஈழத்தமிழர் தேசத்தின் தலைமைத்துவம் தேர்தல் அரசியற் கட்சிகளுக்கு அப்பாலானது
02.11.21 15:32   Photo
13 ஆம் சட்டத்திருத்தத்தால் கட்டமைக்கப்பட்ட இன அழிப்பை எதிர்கொள்ள முடியுமா?
15.09.21 08:19  
English version not available
17.05.21 19:23   Photo
Ananthi blames war criminal Silva for blocking collective memorial at Mu'l'livaaykkaal
09.04.21 14:46  
English version not available
23.03.21 12:41   Photo
No focus on Tamil genocide, geopolitics gets played out in Geneva in favour of QUAD formation
21.03.21 13:34   Photo
Navi Pillay explains ‘human rights’ limitations in Geneva on Tamil genocide
15.03.21 20:36   Photo
Deceived Tamil activists in UK falsely claimed ‘substantial changes’ to Zero draft
09.03.21 21:34   Photo
UK repeatedly wronged Tamils says hunger-striker, demands genocide justice
26.02.21 11:53   Photo
Tamils witness false dilemma in Geneva as geopolitical formations pit against each other
19.02.21 14:02   Photo
UK not prepared to push for ICC option in new UNHRC Resolution
07.02.21 23:16   Photo
Unprecedented P2P uprising paves the way for rights-oriented politics of Tamils and Muslims
Find this article at: