A body of people, probably Sinhalese, have conspired with the skipper of a small trawler to seize the vessel off the southern coast of Sri Lanka and to head for Australia. This act of piracy involved the brutal assault and throwing overboard of five deckhands (and three seem to have drowned**). Clearly, this group of people are seeing Australia as a land that will enable self-advancement. Apart from the misinformation on prospects in that continent, they do not seem to be aware that few Sinhalese asylum-seekers (as distinct from Tamils) make the cut — that most Sinhalese are deported.
As critically those who worked out this modus operandi must surely be hairbrained idiots: piracy is the surest way to quick deportation.
Kudawella (more properly Kudāvälla) from where the boat and its skipper originated is near Tangalle and happens to be the area where Paul Alexander, the Kiwi-Australian anthropologist, did his ethnographic work and produced the book Mālu Mudalāli.
Also note that this is not the first act of lunatic piracy by Sinhala fisher folk. Way back in October-November 2008 twelve Sinhala Catholic fishermen from the Negombo area who were supposed to pick up a load of wanna-be asylum-seekers did not do so but simply headed straight for Australia and ditched their boat in Shark Bay to the north of Geraldton in Western Australia. Their anticipations were dashed. Despite support from Pamela Curr and other bleeding hearts who believed their tales about danger from both the government and the LTTE, they did not convince the Australian authorities. Every one of them was deported – being escorted back by plane by Aussie personnel in each instance.
Amanda Hodge picked up on their tale of woe a little later by highlighting the difficulties which Stanley Warnakulasuriya and a few others faced back home in Sri Lanka (not least from the threats advanced by the boat owner whom they had diddled). See “Sri Lankan boatpeople home and scared” … The Australian, 10 October 2009. This sob story has recently been ‘recapitulated’ by Hodge when she focused on the difficulties in making a living encountered by one of the latest set of Sinhala deportees, namely, Joseph Fernando (another Sinhala Catholic fisherman like Warnakulasuriya).
Hodge did not remind readers in 2012 about the previous tale of misfortune. Newspaper headlines thrive on short memories.
However, it took the Australian authorities maybe some seven to fifteen months more or less to get the Shark Bay lot back – in driblets – to Sri Lanka because of the legal tussles involved — courtesy of the advocacy campaigners like Curr. This is the cost of due judicial process and bureaucratic rationality in Australia. Whether Nauru is less costly or more effective a deterrent is now a question Australians must face.
It will hardly be a deterrent if poor and aspirant people in Sri Lanka and Tamilnadu, whether Sinhalese, Muslim or Tamil, do not receive grounded information about the situation in Australia or if they disbelieve the information in the light of mis-information from migrant circuits of ‘knowledge’ or incentives from such circuits through monetary support. Or, dare one say, if they have clay between their ears and live in fantasyland.
The sob story in this particular story from the Kudawella area rests squarely among the families of the THREE fishermen who are said to have lost their lives because of this brutal act of piracy geared towards asylum in Australia.** Maybe some of our Lankan journalists should take their cue from Hodge, Rosenbaum and other Aussie journalists and present the lamentations of these kinfolk in word or video for the benefit of the world at large.
** Subsequent news reports [see below] raise some doubts about this alleged ‘fact” It is possible theyw ere induced to join the captain and others. Much depends on the veracity of the claims made by the two rescued fishermen.
Skipper of seized craft collaborated with attackers. Killing of three fishers on high sea
By Shamindra Ferdinando and Norman Palihawadana in Island, 17 October 2012
An armed gang, in the early hours of yesterday, seized a trawler, Thejan Putha, off the southern coast after throwing four out of the five-man fishing crew overboard. Three of them are believed to have been drowned, while the other was rescued by a foreign ship and handed over to the Sri Lankan Navy Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) Jayasagara about 50 nautical miles south east of Sri Lanka. All four thrown overboard had their hands tied by some members of the gang, who revealed their plan to migrate to Australia during a conversation with the skipper of the trawler.
The trawler left Kudawella around 10.00 pm carrying six persons, including the skipper, who had been involved in the conspiracy to seize the trawler. Except for the fifth man, who had jumped overboard all others had injuries caused by sharp objects. He, too, was rescued by another foreign vessel and handed over to SLNS Jayasagara.
The rescued fishermen told the SLN that a fibre glass dinghy carrying ten persons, including a woman and child, had arrived alongside their trawler about one hour after they left Kudawella. They had boarded the trawler with the consent of the captain of the fishing craft and thereafter tied five members of the crew. Thereafter they had consumed several bottles of liquor and about 4.00 a.m. decided to throw all five overboard, the rescued men told SLN Jayasagara crew.
An SLN official quoted one of the rescued victims as having said how he jumped overboard when those who seized the trawler attacked them with swords. He was the only one to escape without cut injuries.
The police said that the identity of the skipper was known. Authorities said that the gang could be planning to board a bigger vessel taking illegal immigrants to Australia.
SLN headquarters said that the two fishermen had been rescued by two merchant vessels, Lusail and Edith Maersk.
MV Lusail had deviated from its own course in order to hand over the injured fisherman it had taken onboard. Timely action taken by the two merchant vessels had been commendable and it had saved the lives of the fishermen, the Navy said.
SLN spokesman Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya said. The crew of MV Lusail had also given $ 500 to the man rescued by them, he said. Having provided onboard emergency medical treatment, SLNS Jayasagara brought the rescued fishermen to the Galle Harbour and handed them over to Galle Harbour Police.
The rescued men told police that their skipper made a telephone call shortly after they had left Kudawella and was probably talking to a member of the gang who launched the attack. Sources said that every effort would be made to track down the gang now believed to on its way to Australia.
“Missing fishermen too bound for Australia?, “
Tuesday’s seizure of a trawler ‘Chejan’, off the southern coast, by an armed gang has taken an unexpected turn with the police now believing that the three fishermen, who were earlier believed be missing, after being thrown overboard, joining the would be illegal immigrants trying to reach Australian waters.
Police headquarters and SLN sources said that two persons who had jumped overboard after the seizure of the trawler and were subsequently rescued by two foreign vessels told investigators that they weren’t sure of what really happened to three of their colleagues, though they earlier indicated they were thrown overboard by the gang. The possibility of them, too, joining the Australia bound group couldn’t be ruled out, sources said.
Sources asserted that the skipper of the vessel could be the mastermind of the operation. In fact, he had caused some injury to one of the rescued person using a sharp object. Police quoted the rescued persons as having said that the skipper of the vessel and some of those who had seized the vessel had consumed arrack after five members of the crew were tied up. Rescued fishermen told investigators that three crew members had joined the gang under threat, though they jumped overboard fearing for their lives.
The rescued fishermen told the SLN that a fibre glass dinghy carrying ten persons, including a woman and child, had arrived alongside their trawler about one hour after they left Kudawella. They had boarded the trawler with the consent of the captain of the fishing craft and thereafter tied five members of the crew.
On the directions of Senior DIG Southern Province, the police yesterday took the fibre glass dingy, which ferried Australia bound persons to ‘Chejan’ into custody at Amanwella in the Tangalle police area. The police also detained the owner of the dinghy. Sources said that it wouldn’t be realistic to conduct a specific search operation for the seized trawler.