An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 26 May 2006

The LTTE Navy

Admiral Arun Prakash made a visit to Chennai recently and it was perhaps prompted by the need to be vigilant and understand the Sri Lankan crisis which is brewing. The LTTE attacked the Sri Lankan Navy and their CDF was injured in much the same manner as Rajiv Gandhi was killed. The Chief stated that the Navy and the Coast Guard were stepping up their patrols as some 300 refugees had already fled the North of Sri Lanka and a repeat of 1987 was to be avoided.

B Raman (an ex-RAW No 2 man) has done a very incisive job of analyzing the LTTE’s Navy. Pirabahkaran had cleverly invested in LTTE merchant ships by proxy and that’s how he got arms and the Indian Navy blew up a ship off Chennai and the one legged ‘Cdr.’ Kittu was killed. Whether the ship was in Indian waters was controversial.

Then the LTTE formed the Sea Tigers and that kept the Sri Lankan Navy at bay and we are surprised it operates as a proper Navy and India says that we do not recognise it. How is it manned and accepted by the largest neighbour, or is it just Tamil Nadu politics?

We post an interesting piece. The point of interest is that during the 1987–90 period the LTTE Navy was kept down and Sea Tigers never harmed an Indian Navy ship or any Navy camp at KKS or Trincomallee and those acts need to be replicated before it is too late. No renegade Navy can operate in the vicinity of a powerful Indian Navy in the area –– or it is politics again? Mr Karunanidhi has no Viako to worry about. As they say ‘Do you get me Steve?’

Action Against LTTE's Maritime Terrorism

International Terrorism Monitor: Paper No.58

By B.Raman

1. India and the other members of the international community should be even more concerned than in the past over the medium and long-term implications of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) acquiring a capability for conventional and unconventional (terrorism-related) maritime action.
2. This capability consists of a fleet of commercial ships run by LTTE cadres based abroad and the so-called LTTE Navy. The commercial fleet is normally used ostensibly for carrying legitimate commercial cargo for different countries. This provides it with a seemingly legitimate commercial cover and a source of revenue. When needed, they are also clandestinely used for gun and narcotics running. In the past, the LTTE had also placed its commercial ships at the disposal of terrorist organisations of other countries. There is at least one confirmed instance in 1995 when an LTTE ship had clandestinely transported a consignment of arms and ammunition, dispatched by the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) of
Pakistan to the southern Philippines for use by the Abu Sayyaf. The HUM paid the LTTE for its services by donating to it some anti-aircraft weapons and ammunition. This was in addition to the cash paid for it. 

3. The so-called Navy is used for conventional and unconventional naval operations against the Sri Lankan security forces –– including acts of suicide terrorism. Its naval fleet has not so far come to notice for operating in the high seas and for any assistance rendered by it to the terrorist organisations of other countries.

3. In the past, apart from Sri Lanka, India was the only country which was closely monitoring the movements of the LTTE's commercial ships and acting against them, where necessary and possible. The most spectacular example was the attack by the Indian Coast Guard in 1993 on an LTTE ship transporting arms and ammunition given by Pakistan for the LTTE. Kittu, an LTTE leader, was travelling by that ship. To avoid the capture of the ship and its cargo of weapons of Pakistani origin by the Indian Coast Guard, the LTTE crew set fire to the ship, which sank. Kittu and some members of the crew chose to go down with the ship. Some other members of the crew jumped into the sea and were captured by the Coast Guard.

4. Till 1996, the Governments in New Delhi, which were not dependent on the Tamil regional parties of Tamil Nadu for their survival in power, acted vigorously in monitoring the movements of the LTTE's commercial ships, attacking them when they were suspected of carrying arms and ammunition or at least alerting the Sri Lankan Navy about their movements.

5. The various coalition governments, which came to power in New Delhi after 1996, were dependent on the Tamil regional parties for their survival in power. This has resulted in a slackening of the monitoring of the movements of the LTTE's commercial ships by the Indian intelligence community and security agencies. There has hardly been any significant action against LTTE's commercial fleet in recent years. The LTTE has taken advantage of this for gun and narcotics running and for keeping its coffers replenished.

6. Before the cease-fire agreement between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE was concluded in February 2002, the two main sources of arms and ammunition for it were those captured from the Sri Lankan security forces during clashes and those procured in other countries and smuggled in its commercial ships. Since the cease-fire came into force, the first source has almost totally dried up. This has not affected its arms holdings because of its success in continued gun and narcotics running by taking advantage of the slackening of the monitoring and interception operations by India. The LTTE's reported success in clandestinely procuring one or more light aircraft in Europe and transporting it to the areas under its control in the Northern Province might not have been possible but for this slackening. The only weapons, which the LTTE has not been able to get from outside after February 2002, are those used for anti-aircraft operations from the ground. The ease with which the Sri Lankan Air Force has recently carried out punitive air strikes on the LTTE's ground positions and boats in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, without the LTTE being able to do anything about it, clearly indicate a continuing inadequacy of an anti-aircraft capability with the LTTE.

7. The post-tsunami (December 2004) speculative reports about serious damages supposedly caused to the LTTE's Navy by the tsunami have been proved wrong by the success with which the LTTE has organised some spectacular naval strikes –– including acts of sea-borne suicide terrorism –– since Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse took over as the President in November, 2005.

8. Since its conventional ground forces continue to remain weakened due to the desertion of "Col." Karuna, its commander in the Eastern Province, and his men in March 2004, the LTTE has been relying largely on its so-called Navy and its capability for suicide terrorism for its reprisal strikes against the Sri Lankan security forces –– particularly the Navy. After a spectacular naval action by the LTTE on May 11, 2006, the "Times" of London described it as "one of the bloodiest naval engagements of modern times" and reported as follows: "The two-hour engagement late on Thursday afternoon killed 17 Sri Lankan sailors, including two officers, and an estimated 50 Tamil rebels. According to the authorities, whose version was largely corroborated by European monitors who witnessed the attack, 15 Tamil vessels ambushed a squadron of six ships, an unarmed troop carrier (it carried 700 troops) and five escorts. In the ensuing battle, four rebel boats were sunk and an Israeli-made patrol boat was destroyed by a rebel suicide boat. The exact strength of the rebel navy remains a secret, but there are thought to be as many as 6,000 “Sea Tigers” — including heavily armed gunboats, troop carriers and speedboats laden with explosives for suicide attacks. Thursday’s two-hour battle revealed that the rebels pose a potent threat to the Sri Lankan Navy, which has 17,000 sailors and 50 vessels, mainly coastal patrol boats. Jason Alderwick, a former Royal Navy warfare officer at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the use of naval contingents by the Tamil rebels was a unique feature of the conflict in Sri Lanka, and one that the authorities struggled to contain. “The use of swarm boat tactics is very ferocious,” he said, “often leading to close-range gunnery situations. It has proved successful and is very hard to counter. First you have to identify the target and engage it. This is difficult if you have a swarm of five or 10 boats moving at high speed against you. You might take out two, but you could still have five more to deal with. The Sri Lankan Navy were increasingly vulnerable, particularly since the Tamil fighters often expect, and want, to die,” the "Times" quoted him as saying.

9. The LTTE's confidence in its strengthened naval capability and its determination to assert its right to control the waters off the coast of the Northern and Eastern Provinces were reflected in statements issued after the engagement by 'Col.’ Soosai, the head of the so-called LTTE Navy , and S.P. Thamilselvan, the political adviser of Prabhakaran, the leader of the LTTE. Soosai said on May 13, 2006: "We have openly established our control, and have unequivocally asserted our rights to maritime waters adjoining our homeland, in the same way we recovered and control large areas of northeast. We are not prepared to relinquish sovereign rights to the seas which we have won with the sacrifice of our people. Today, the long stretch of northern seas extending from Nagarkovil to Kokkuththoduvai is under the control of Liberation Tigers. After we evicted the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) from the Mullaitivu garrison, our control of northern seas has expanded and strengthened. We move with complete freedom in these waters to transport our cadres and to distribute material needs to our movement. We will not hesitate to wage war with anyone who attempts to prevent us from exercising our freedom. We have the power and right to develop the necessary infrastructure and military strength to provide security to our people within our homeland. Some say that International laws do not permit parties "without a legal state" to own a naval force in seas belonging to a sovereign state. We have one thing to say to them. Every square-inch of land we control, and all infrastructure and areas we administer, were not given to us. We obtained these by force from our adversary. More than 1200 sea-tigers sacrificed their lives during the last 15 years of struggle over maritime waters. We have now evolved into a formidable naval force commanding control over the northeastern seas. The price we have paid to earn our sovereign rights to waters is immeasurable. Even during intense war, we were able to establish sea-links with distant lands at our will. No party was able to stop us then. How can anyone, especially within a period of peace, try to scuttle this ability? How can we permit this? Only recently the Head of Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) shook hands with us and was ready to start sea-tiger boats on a journey to the east. Now he is advancing new explanations to label our sea movements as illegal. We are determined and will continue to engage in activities in sea in northeastern waters that lie within our control perimeter. Any obstacle will be overcome with appropriate debilitating force."

10. In a letter to Major General Henricsson, the Head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, after the engagement of May 11, 2006, Thamilchelvan rejected the Monitoring Mission's statement issued earlier the same day, stating that non-State actors cannot claim any legitimate right to operate in the sea and air.

11. While the LTTE's ground action capability poses a threat mainly to the national security of Sri Lanka, its emergence as a credible naval and maritime force poses a threat even to regional and international security. It should be of concern to the international community as a whole and particularly to India's national security managers. Even though the so-called LTTE Navy has till now acted only against the Sri Lankan Navy and has refrained from interfering in the international (non-Sri Lankan) maritime traffic in and through the waters adjoining Sri Lanka, its assertion of its right to operate in the seas adjoining the Northern and Eastern Provinces not only to protect the ground areas controlled by it, but also to protect the livelihood of Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen has the seeds of a potential confrontation with the Indian Navy and Coast Guard and a potential threat to our maritime traffic and the livelihood of our fishermen.

12. India has unfortunately failed to articulate so far its concerns over the so-called Navy of the LTTE. The only categorical statement on the subject came from Admiral Arun Prakash, India’s Chief of the Naval Staff (CONS), during his visit to Sri Lanka from September 11 to 16, 2004. Addressing a press conference at Colombo on September 16, 2004, he was reported to have stated as follows: ”There is some concern (in Colombo) that the port of Trincomalee should not fall into the wrong hands. It seems to be that at the moment the LTTE is closely bearing down on Trincomalee. The LTTE is a proscribed terrorist organisation. There is no question of a naval wing or anything like that. We don’t recognise entities of that nature. Like any fanatical and suicidal organisation, they have the potential to cause a certain amount of damage. India is solidly behind Sri Lanka’s integrity and sovereignty. It is the country’s stated policy that it would like to underwrite the integrity of the island-nation.”

13. Subsequently, there has once again been muted silence, presumably to accommodate the desire of the regional Tamil parties of Tamil Nadu to tone down the rhetoric on this subject. The time has come for India to be more proactive in this matter with a policy and action initiative at the following two levels:

·         LEVEL ONE: Mobilising action in the UN Security Council and other appropriate fora for freezing, under the UN Security Council Resolution No.1373 against terrorism, the bank accounts of all those associated with the LTTE's commercial fleet, seizure of the ships as assets of a terrorist organisation banned in many countries and arrests and prosecution of the members of the crew for working for a banned terrorist organisation.

·         LEVEL TWO: To constitute an international coalition against maritime terrorism in order to force the LTTE to dismantle its maritime capability through diplomatic pressure if possible and through naval action, if necessary.

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