SLMM releases report on SLN's sinking of LTTE vessel

[TamilNet, Saturday, 28 June 2003, 10:28 GMT]
Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) in its report on the sea incident where LTTE's vessel MT Shoshin was sunk by the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) on 14 June, concluded, "Since neither Party informed the SLMM in due time about the incident...the possibility to prevent the escalation was missed," that SLMM "does not consider that SLN violated the CFA by intercepting the LTTE tanker," and that "LTTE violated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10th Dec 1982 by not flying an appropriate flag and official, visible identification."

Full text of the press release issued by the SLMM Saturday follows:

Subject: The Sea Incident on the 14th of June 2003 - SLMM Report

At 06:23 in the morning of Saturday June 14th 2003 Major General Tryggve Tellefsen, The Head of Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), received information from the Defense Secretary, Mr. Austin Fernando, that the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) had intercepted two ships, one small and one larger around 100 nautical miles off the East coast of Sri Lanka.

SLN claims the vessels did not carry visible registration or flag, and that they did not respond when challenged. After firing warning shots across the bowline of the larger vessel, SLN claims that the unknown ship tried to ram the navy vessel. An explosion was heard from the larger vessel, which caught fire and later sank. SLN claims no survivors were seen leaving the ship and that the smaller vessel escaped.

According to the LTTE, the vessel that was sunk, was an oil tanker “MT Shosin”, and the LTTE claims the ship was sailing in international waters, 266 nautical miles off the East coast, flying two flags at mast, one LTTE flag and one “specific flag for international waters”. LTTE claims the crew consisted of twelve Sea Tigers and that the vessel was solely owned by LTTE.

Neither Party informed SLMM about the incident in due time, and as a result of that, SLMM could not monitor the incident.

Sequence of Events
According to SLN the naval vessel Sri Lanka Navy Ship “Nandimithra” left Colombo on June 10th for 7 days detachment to Eeastern Naval Command. According to ENC they received on June 12th a message from SLN HQ that a possible “smuggling ship” was approaching Sri Lankan waters. On June 13th ENC sent four Fast Gun Boats (FGBs )to join SLNS “Nandimithra” to patrol and search the area NE of Mullaittivu. The Commander of ENC, Rear Admiral Karrannaoda stated, when interviewed, that ENC had not received any information that “the smuggling ship” could be an LTTE vessel. Just before midnight on June 13th an SLN vessel detected an echo on the radar screen and reported the following location: 10° 44.50’ N - 83° 18.00’ E (175 NM off the East coast). Two craft were then ordered to approach the target and identify it. Half an hour later, at 00:28 hrs, June 14th, according to SLN, an SLN vessel observed a tanker towing a small craft at a distance of 1.5 NM. Two minutes later the smaller craft was released from the tanker. Later in the morning SLN lost contact with the small craft.

At 02:00 two SLN gunboats were ordered to challenge the tanker to identify herself.

According to SLMM’s interviews with Lt. Col Seliyan, Deputy Commander of LTTE Sea Tigers the Captain of “MT Shoshin” called the Sea Tiger Base both at midnight and at 03:00 in the morning to inform that everything was OK, but at 03:00 hrs. four vessels had been detected on radar. The Captain was advised by the Tiger Base not to worry about the vessels, since the LTTE vessel was in international waters: Lt. Col Seliyan said in his interview with SLMM Monitors on the 18th of June 2003 that the incident took place 266 NM off Trincomalee in international waters. Lt. Col. Seliyan stated that the vessel (“MT Shoshin”) in question was a tanker, carrying diesel, belonging to the LTTE (he denied that any other LTTE vessels were on the scene; the SLN claims that there were two vessels, the tanker and a small LTTE craft.

According to SLN, a radio contact was made to the tanker at 03:20 hrs. and identification details of the tanker were obtained. At 04:05 hrs. the SLN vessels received information from ENC that the details about the tanker were incorrect, and an order was given, to challenge the tanker. The tanker did not, according to SLN, respond to an order to stop. An SLN vessel followed the tanker on starboard, at a distance of approximately 900 meters.

At 04:50 hrs. an SLN vessel fired 3 warning shots across the bowline of the tanker. According to SLN, the warning shots did not hit the tanker. SLN claims that small arm muzzle fire was seen from the bridge of the tanker and a Navy sailor got a head injury by a grazing shot.

Between 05:30 and 05:40 hrs., according to SLN, Navy sailors heard and saw an explosion amidships and the tanker caught fire. Two or three explosions are said to have followed. SLN claims to have called the tanker and advised the crew to jump into the sea, but the crew did not respond. SLN claims no crewmembers were seen onboard the burning tanker nor seen jumping into the sea.

At 05:45 ENC requested for an SLMM Naval Monitor to join an SLN sea patrol. LTTE claims that the captain of “MT Shoshin” made contact with the Sea Tiger Base at 06:00 June 14th, and stated that the four vessels were close and visible, claiming they were naval vessels of unknown nationality. At 06:08 The Naval Monitoring Team of SLMM in Trincomalee informed SLMM Headquarters, based on information from the ENC that an incident had taken place 100 NM off Mullaitivu. ENC had indicated, that if LTTE was involved, ENC would request SLMM’s assistance.

At 06:10, the Captain of “MT Shoshin” informed The Sea Tiger Base that the vessels were SLN, according to LTTE, and that SLN wanted to inspect “MT Shoshin”. The SLN vessel had identified itself via radio. The LTTE Base granted permission for an inspection of “MT Shoshin”. The Captain advised that after the permission to inspect “MT Shoshin” had been granted, the SLN ordered all crewmembers on “MT Shoshin” to jump into the sea and board the SLN vessel. Then the inspection of the LTTE vessel would take place. LTTE also claims that immediately after the Captain relayed the information that the crewmembers were leaving the ship, the Captain stated via radio that the vessel was under attack by the SLN vessel and that hostile fire impacted on the bridge. The Captain stated he was the only one remaining onboard, and that he would jump into the sea and swim towards the SLN ship as the rest of the crew had already done.The position of the vessel at the time of the incident was said to be 266 NM off Trincomalee.

At 06:23 The Defense Secretary, Mr. Austin Fernando called Major General Tryggve Tellefsen The Head of SLMM and explained the ongoing situation. The Head of Mission called CinC SLN and SLN HQ but got no further information.

At 07:04 hrs. SLMM Liaison Officer to LTTE informed Mr. Tamilselvan, that one vessel allegedly an LTTE vessel had been spotted by SLN 100 NM off Mullaitivu. He was also informed that ENC was sending one vessel with two SLMM naval monitors to the location. LTTE was requested to provide SLMM with whatever information LTTE had.

At 07:10 hrs. SLNS “Nandimithra” arrived at the scene. At that time only the bow of the tanker was visible, according to SLN. The two FGBs at the scene had been looking for survivors since the tanker caught fire. After the explosions the FGBs kept some distance from the tanker in order not to take any risk due to the possibility of further explosions. At 07:30 hrs. the Captain of “MT Shoshin” contacted the Sea Tiger Base and stated the ship was under fire from SLN and that he was leaving the ship.

SLMM Naval Monitor in Trincomalee on board an SLN vessel left Trincomalee at 07:48 in the morning and the estimated time of arrival at the screening area, 110 NM off the East coast, was at 13:00.

At 08:20 LTTE informed SLMM HQ that at approx. 08:00 hrs SLN had attacked an LTTE vessel 260 NM off Mullaitivu. 12 cadres had jumped into the sea and had been arrested by SLN. LTTE requested SLMM monitors to be present immediately.

SLN claims that SLNS “Nandimithra” and another SLN vessel continued to search for survivors, until the tanker sank, at 09:00 hrs. SLN states that nothing was observed except a few burning barrels and pieces of paper floating on the sea. Late in the afternoon of June 14th, at 17:02 LTTE informed SLMM Headquarters of the location, where LTTE claims the incident took place, 266 NM off Mullaitivu.

In the evening of June 14th at 21:45 hrs. Naval Monitoring Team Trincomalee returned back to harbour without having observed anything. Another sea patrol from Trincomalee, to the areas where the incident allegedly occurred, according to different information from SLN and LTTE, was undertaken late in the evening of June 14th but due to rough seas the SLN vessel returned back to harbour at 01:25 hrs. June 15th without completing the mission.

Naval Monitoring Team, Trincomalee made an inspection by air, over the different locations given by SLN and LTTE, on Sunday, June 15th , but nothing was observed. From June 16th through June 19th sea patrols were made by Naval Monitoring Team Trincomalee, in the different areas, the Parties say the incident occurred, but nothing was observed.

On June 18th SLMM headquarters inspected SLNS “Nandimitrha” to inquire into the electronic log for June 14th. The captain stated that all recorded electronic logs are reset when the ship commences a new patrol, hence - nothing was observed.

SLMM’s Comments
Impartial enquiry is one of SLMM main principles. Furthermore, it is imperative that conclusions and determinations are based on facts verified by SLMM monitor/-s and/or non-contradictory information given by the Parties and/or eyewitnesses. It must be stressed that in this particular incident there were no impartial eyewitnesses on the scene when the incident took place

According to The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea “the international waters” (High Seas) “are all the parts of the sea that are not included in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), in the territorial sea…,”. According to the Convention the EEZ shall not extend beyond 200 nautical miles. “If the incident took place 266 NM offshore Sri Lanka like the LTTE claims then the provisions of the Part VII of the Convention applies (“High Seas”, international waters),” is a direct quote from SLMM’s report, that was handed over to the Parties yesterday, June 27th.

Lt Col Seliyan stated, when interviewed the LTTE vessel was flying two flags. According to UN Convention on the Law of the Sea a ship can only sail under a flag of a state.

SLMM also comments on the Right to inspect vessels without nationality and says that in this particular incident “the SLN most probably had a right to inspect the tanker because the tanker was without nationality. There is no impartial observation of the incident, and no evidence of what exactly happened at the scene.”

The Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) article 1.2 states “Neither Party shall engage in any offensive military operation… such acts as offensive naval operations (1.2 c) and furthermore according to the CFA 1.3 “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”.

“The SLN has the authority to perform its legitimate tasks at sea according to Sri Lankan laws, CFA and UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” is a direct quote from the report.

Since neither Party informed the SLMM in due time about the incident SLMM was not in a position to monitor the event and the possibility to prevent the escalation was missed. The fate of the crew of the tanker is unknown to SLMM. SLMM has found no evidence that the crew was captured by SLN.

According to United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10th Dec 1982 SLN had the right to inspect the LTTE tanker. Hence, SLMM does not consider that SLN violated the CFA by intercepting the LTTE tanker.

SLMM concludes that LTTE violated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10th Dec 1982 by not flying an appropriate flag and official, visible identification.

SLMM’s Recommendations
SLMM recommends that Naval vessels with electronic log should save the data recorded during an incident and not erase the data before it has been examined by SLMM; SLMM also recommends that all logged information should be saved and made available for SLMM; Furthermore SLMM suggests that GOSL and the LTTE should as soon as possible reach an agreement on measures to prevent clashes at sea as earlier proposed by SLMM.

“SLN and LTTE should inform SLMM immediately when there are indications of a possible confrontation.

LTTE should instruct its merchant sailors to adhere to United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10th Dec 1982,” are the final recommendations made by SLMM in the Report.


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