A team of Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officers conducting investigations on the latest vessel carrying a consignment of arms for Avant Garde Maritime Services have sealed several containers with weapons.
According to Police sources, officers have found a stock of weapons with foreign serial numbers inside the ship which are not compatible with the documents issued by the defence authorities.
The CID officers began their examination of the ship which is currently docked at the Galle harbour on Saturday night. They had carried out the examination of the ships cargo and questioning of the crew through out today as well.
After examining the ship the CID officers have taken steps to seal three containers with weapons
Meanwhile, the Attorney General has advised the Inspector General of Police to pursue probes on the Avant Garde under the Money Laundering act while discarding possible charges under the firearms ordinance and prevention of terrorism act citing lack of evidence.
The AG’s stand has come under severe criticism from a number of quarters. According to sources some highly placed officials from the AG’s department itself have pointed out that there is enough evidence to charge the Avant Garde under the firearms ordinance.
However, the AG for the time being has strictly ruled out any charges being filed under the firearms ordinance or the PTA.
But according to highly placed sources in the defence establishment, the AG will be forced to change his stand as CID officers probing the latest case have found out serious discrepancies in the documents approved by the Defence Ministry and the weapons cache contained in the floating armoury.
Two days ago Avant Garde Maritime Services (Pvt) Ltd issued the statement below;
Avant Garde Maritime Services (Pvt) Ltd Media Release With Regard To Merchant Vessel Avant Garde
Proliferation of sea piracy in the Western Indian Ocean resulted in International Maritime Organization (IMO) establishing a High Risk Area in which piracy threat was greater. Many Western Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs) started providing security to ships in this HRA, and since Sri Lanka was at one end of the HRA based their operations off Sri Lanka. They also obtained the required weapons belonging to Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) from Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Ltd (RALL) for convenience.
Whilst providing these weapons to those maritime security companies, 197 weapons belonging to GOSL were misplaced, as once issued from Colombo, there was no way of monitoring them.
Avant Garde then conceptualised and proposed to GOSL a system to eliminate any possibility of misplacing, but instead properly account for weapons once issued by RALL, through the establishment of many operational centres in the periphery of the Indian Ocean in a ‘Closed Circuit Network’ (CCN) where any RALL weapon issued from one location had to be returned to any other location of this closed circuit network. Floating Armouries were to complement the CCN wherever land operational centres were not possible. Then there was to be a guarantee that any weapon issued would be returned. The proposal also entailed that the entire investment to be borne by Avant Garde without a cent being invested by GOSL.
Since the proposal was conceptualised and proposed by Avant Garde, it has the intellectual right to it.
Consequently, the CCN was established in 2012 through a joint venture with RALL where the accountability of weapons in those operational centres were to be by RALL representatives. These weapons were approved by theMOD. The operation progressed satisfactorily and smoothly. In 2014, the ship Used as the floating armoury in Red Sea was replaced by another ship from Sri Lanka, which was renamed as MV Avant Garde and set sail from Colombo on 07 April.
Transparency of the operation was assured by regular reporting to MOD and RALL, and the full Operation has been clearly shown in the Avant Garde web site (www.avantmaritime.com) from the inception. The venture continued successfully and the CCN concept of Avant Garde ensured that not a single weapon was misplaced since then. There was international acclaim of this operation and the model was suggested to be taken as a template for other Operators by authorities of the calibre no less than the Indian Navy Commander and the UK based Security Association of Maritime Industry (SAMI).
However, events in January 2015 leading to the baseless detention of the floating armoury at Galle; MV Mahanuwara, caused many international Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs), till that time reliable clients of Avant Garde, to abandon Avant Garde and migrate to alternative solutions greatly reducing the business of Avant Garde. By the time Avant Garde was cleared by Galle Magistrate and the Attorney General’s department, the damage has already been done.
The resultant loss of revenue made the business untenable, and RALL was apprised of the situation at many meetings, as well as in writing, that the floating armoury in the Red Sea will have to be therefore, withdrawn.
Consequently, arrangements were made to withdraw the floating armoury in the Red Sea to return to Sri Lanka. In addition to the daily weapon report prepared by the RALL representative on board, an independent list of items on board was prepared by the RALL representative on board; Lt Col Albert Tillekaratne. The list was sent to RALL and the Head of the RALL Armoury, Major Wijekoon confirmed to its accuracy.
Thereafter, on 22 Sep, RALL was requested for armed guards for the passage through the High Risk Area (HRA), which is a security measure adopted by any ship, and the MOD approved it on 23 Sep keeping all other relevant authorities, including the Sri Lanka Navy, informed (MOD letter No MOD/CS/ SS/ RAKNA/ 20 dated 23 Sep). Therefore, the contention of the Sri Lanka Navy that it was unaware of the vessel was in the least, preposterous.
The vessel left the Red Sea on 24 Sep, and at the same time a letter was originated seeking approval of RALL to transfer the consignment of weapons, ammunition and associated equipment to its armory at Galle once the ship arrived in Galle (Chairman Avant Garde Letter No AST/STP/ 13 dated 24 Sep 2015). The Secretary of MOD accepted receipt of that letter at a recent media interview. However, the approval to it was not as prompt as should have been, hence the ship, having arrived off the port of Galle, remained in international waters outside Sri Lanka territorial waters and Galle port limits awaiting the approval.
When the ship left Red Sea, there was a request to embark and return to Sri Lanka 3 Sri Lankan sea marshals who have been in the employment of a foreign PMSCs (Tundra) based in Sri Lanka. They were provided the facility as supernumeraries of the ship, which is not unusual. The PMSC local agent, MALSHIP, in its efforts to disembark these 3 Sri Lankan Sea Marshals expeditiously, has submitted a request to DHM Galle, which is not within their purview, and in has entered a wrong name as the captain of the vessel.
The document seeking clearance of a ship is submitted by the ship’s local agent, and MALSHIP has no business to do it even to clear its own personnel. That needs to be done by the ships local agent. Therefore, whatever MALSHIP has submitted has no validity at all. It perplexing why DHM Galle accepted such an invalid request when it should have been simply disregarded and discarded. Neither Avant Garde nor the ship’s local agent, Sri Lanka Shipping Ltd, was aware of MALSHIP request, and even if any of them were aware, it would have been dismissed as irrelevant and invalid. An investigation, if any, should be initiated as to why DHM Galle even accepted it, let alone publicise it and release a totally irrelevant, wrong and damning information to the public.
The ship, MV Avant Garde, remained outside the port limit in international waters awaiting clearance from MOD. This is the usual practice of any ship awaiting whatever clearance or approval. Even then, for good order, Avant Garde made it a point to keep Mr. Victor Samaraweera; Chairman RALL, Adm Jayantha Perera; Presidential Advisor on Maritime Affairs, Senior Additional Secretary; MOD, Mr. DMS Dissanayaka, and Secretary RALL; Mr. DRM Ranatunga informed about the ship waiting outside awaiting MOD clearance to transfer the consignment to RALL armoury.
The MOD gave approval on 6 Oct 2015 (MOD Letter No MODUD/CS/FA/AT dated 6 Oct ’15), which was received at 9.45 am. but the Sri Lanka Navy boarded the ship just 30 minutes before and assumed command. The action of the Navy is shocking in view of it being informed regularly of the progress as indicated above.
It is relevant at this juncture to emphasise that Avant Garde has always conformed to national and international laws from the inception and, as mentioned earlier, has been receiving accolades and admirations from players of the industry as well as independent international experts in maritime affairs.
Also, there is no discrepancy whatsoever in the consignment of weapons, ammunition and associated equipment maintained by RALL representatives on board and exactly tallies with details available at RALL armoury.
In light of above, the reason for selective targeting of Avant Garde is the mystery, not anything that it has alluded to have done.
It is clear that many envious business contenders are at the bottom of these efforts to disrupt activities of Avant Garde, but unfortunately without realising the great and irrevocable damage done to the country in general and Sri Lankan shipping industry in particular. Galle has become a thriving business centre for ship agents and that is now being threatened affecting livelihood of many.
Despite all this, the projection of this incident as a mysterious event appears to be a systematic effort to mislead the public at large. There are over 15 floating armoun’es operating in the Red Sea and Gulf of Oman servicing many foreign PMSCs, and Avant Garde was the undoubted business leader made possible by its incise knowledge of the business, until deriding rhetoric in Sri Lanka casted a shadow over the stability of its business. It has caused many clients to take business with Avant Garde elsewhere, losing invaluable foreign exchange to the country and depriving respectable employment opportunities to many retired ex-servicemen war heroes who have sacrificed their youth for others to live peacefully. What a travesty!
It is also relevant to mention that the concepts and operational planning of Avant Garde conforming to national and international laws and obligations to maintain its legitimacy are being conducted by many specialists and experts in the field, comprising of 2 former Navy Commanders, a former Director General of the Coast Guard, a former Chief of Staff of the Army, 2 former Dle, 3 senior retired civil servants, very senior foreign Naval officers, supported by many other very senior and well respected senior military officers. They assure complete accountability and transparency of all Avant Garde activities and such an experienced team is unlikely to be found in any other business organisation in the world. The expertise of those people should not be undermined nor ridiculed. Unfortunately that appears to be happening in Sri Lanka, where allegations are being made without any grounds whatsoever, in deriding rhetoric to mislead the general public, which could be considered as downright betrayal.
Major General (Retd) Rohan Kaduwela
Head of Secretariat (AGMS Operations)
Date : 16 October 2015