Feature Article

'Freedom Flotilla symbolises new dimension of humanitarian struggle'

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 01 June 2010, 12:48 GMT]
A project manager of the Vanni Mission ship of the Tamil diaspora has said the courage displayed by the organisers and activists of the Freedom Flotilla and the sacrifices made by the activists have brought a new dimension to the global humanitarian struggle, exclusively revealing to TamilNet how Tamil Nadu government was 'forced' to act in delivering the aid carried by the Tamil mission last year. S. Noel, the France based project manger of the Tamil diaspora project said humanitarian activists world over should not hesitate to initiate similar actions in future if the humanity is serious about changing the attitude of oppressors, who cause untold sufferings to innocent children in besieged situations of genocidal proportion, and urged Tamil diaspora to express solidarity with those affected in the tragedy.

Last year, Tamil diaspora organised a similar mission when more than 300,000 Tamils in Vanni were besieged by the Sri Lankan forces that denied them humanitarian aid and medical access.

On 7 May 2009, MV Captain Ali, set sail from Fos-Sur-Mer, France, carrying approximately 884 metric tons of food, medicine and other essential relief items destined for the Tamil civilians in Vanni. M. Kristjan Guđmundsson, an icelandic monitor (ex-Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission member) joined the crew as a neutral witness to ensure transparency of the diaspora organised humanitarian mission.

On 4 June 2009, 17 days after the war ended in Vanni, five vessels of the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) intercepted the MV Captain Ali in the international waters and ordered the ship to move into Sri Lankan waters. The SLN intercepted the ship and found it to carry only emergency humanitarian relief.

MV Captain Ali, the ship of Va'nangkaama'n Mercy Mission
MV Captain Ali, the ship of Va'nangkaama'n Mercy Mission, in the seas off Colombo port [Photo courtesy: Sri Lanka Navy]
Four days after keeping the ship under the custody of the SLN, Colombo turned away the ship. It also arrested a Tamil businessman in Colombo, who had come forward as consignee for the ship's cargo to assist in clearing it through customs.

MV Captain Ali entered the Chennai port of Tamil Nadu and was waiting there for 20 more days.

As the cost caused by the delays exceeded the capacity of the humanitarian project amid prevailing frustration of the civilians deprived of aid, the patience ran out for the project team in exile. The delay had cost 50,000 pounds to Vanni Mission.

Noel said the project team decided to inform their decision to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi, who had shown political interest in the plight of Tamil civilians. Noel phoned Kanimozhi in the early hours of 23 June 2009, to convey a critical decision: The project management team operating from France had decided to instruct the crew to dispose of the cargo into the sea if Tamil Nadu government failed to act within a few hours.

"Your Chief Minister will go down in history as a man who failed even to convince his Indian government in delivering humanitarian aid collected by diaspora Tamils," Noel told Ms. Kanimozhi.

"We came to this conclusion when soft diplomacy didn't work."

An Indian assurance was on place the following day.

The message from India said that the Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS) will receive it in Chennai and send it on to its counterpart in the island, the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS).

It took almost one week, even after the initial announcement, to dock the port and transfer the consignment. There were several more weeks of delay, caused by the Sri Lankan bureaucracy, in allowing the victims receive the much awaited diaspora aid.

"What we learned from the Va'nangkaama'n project is that we need to act with courage, if we are serious about achieving anything positive, especially when dealing with the kind of oppressive governments," Noel says.

The modus-operandi chosen by the Freedom Flotilla organisers was therefore commendable, according to Noel.


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