The Sunday Leader

Arabian Sea Maritime Security Temporarily At Risk

  • Avant  Garde Co.  Chartered Vessel Released After Diplomatic Exchange
  • Sri Lanka Navy Revenue Affected
  • Legal Ramifications Arise With Issue Of Weapons

By Faraz Shauketaly

Weapons for Hire: pristine & owned by the Government of Sri Lanka and Avant Garde Area of Operation: ”The dangerous Arabian Sea”

A vessel being used by a Sri Lankan company to operate a floating-armoury in the Gulf of Aden was briefly arrested by the authorities in the United Arab Emirates. Sinbad the vessel in the control of ‘Avant Garde Security’ was held whilst it was being refueled off the coast of Fujairah. The company was approved by authorities in Sri Lanka to operate a maritime security company in the troubled Gulf of Aden which has become a risk-zone with frequent pirate attacks.
It appears that the vessel has run into a storm with the so-called ‘Russian mafia’ who have thus far operated maritime security companies in this volatile area with little or no competition. Our maritime sources have indicated that the Sinbad has been lured to within the territorial waters of the UAE during a routine refueling exercise. International Maritime conventions and treaties govern the use and transport of weapons on board vessels with many countries specifically barring the importation of arms and ammunition on board visiting vessels. Generally a vessel that has weapons on board is likely to make use of a ‘floating armoury’ before entering the territorial waters of any country.

Document on transfer procedure for weapons

In this instance the Sinbad – reliably understood to be a minesweeper – has strayed into UAE waters whilst refueling. Ordinarily the refueling would be done well outside of the 12-mile port limit. In what maritime sources said was ‘very strange’ the Captain on board the Sinbad appears to have allowed his vessel to be in UAE waters along with some 1,500 pieces of arms.
An official for Avant Garde claimed that the vessel was in international waters when arrested along with two other vessels by the UAE coastguard. Matters he said were a bit difficult because ‘they did not speak Arabic’ and was hopeful that the matter would be resolved within 48 hours. In fact after a flurry of activity between maritime and diplomatic authorities of both countries the vessel was released and allowed to proceed.
The temporary arrest of the Sinbad raised concerns amongst Private Maritime Security Companies in the area who feared loss of access to weapons in their quest to combat the growing rate of maritime piracy on the seas off the coast of Somalia for instance. Many vessels use independent ‘shipping marshalls’ – some refer to them as  “Maritime Mercenaries” to be on board and provide the vessel with security. Due to stringent rules governing the movement of arms, floating armouries are used to store and also hire weapons for their use. Storage becomes necessary when a vessel has to enter a particular port for any number of reasons.
In Sri Lanka the move away from land-based armouries in Galle and the establishment of a floating armoury off the coast of Galle was met with skepticism by the Ceylon Association of Shipping Agents (CASA). They have expressed concern on the basis that the business of providing maritime security for ships who are represented by their membership will be diluted. At a meeting held in Colombo where foreign maritime security companies were also present, last month, some of these companies voiced concerns as to the legality of the new arrangements. They pointed out that whilst the matter was within the control of Sri Lankan Navy – who were deriving an income of over Rs 300 Million annually – matters were perfectly legitimate and very well accepted by all international participants. It was also pointed out that vessels with weapons on board would not necessarily call at the Galle floating armoury merely to deposit weapons before coming to Colombo. In that light permission will now be given for vessels to hold their weapons on board ‘in-bond’ whilst visiting Colombo Port. An industry source pointed out that this arrangement hits out at the Sri Lanka Navy collecting fees. “If the land based armoury was also operational, the Navy would still collect fees for that use. By now doing away with that arrangement revenue is needlessly lost – also vessels will be mindful of extra costs by stopping in Galle for the use of the floating armoury. Eventually this will be another factor in Colombo attracting fewer ships, the source warned. He added, “Maldives is likely to be the beneficiary.” Sri Lanka’s authorities have cited National Security concerns in the move away from land-based to floating armouries.
Avant Garde Maritime Security operates in conjunction with a government owned business unit, Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Limited (RALL). The involvement of the government-owned RALL facilitates End-User certification and other security concerns. However PMSC’s point out they feel that Sri Lanka has forced the issue of the floating armoury Sinbad on them and were happier when the land-based armouries were in use. As one of the foreign participants in September’s meeting pointed out, “it is illegal to use third-party weapons and the use of a Sea Marshal accompanying the weapons on hire is neither here nor there”. Pointedly, the issue here is the use of an essentially private company – Avant Garde – to hire weapons and equipment to the vessels.
Our source elaborated that “when Rakna Arakshaka Lanka deals with the owners and Masters of vessels, it is accepted that it is a legitimate government that is doing so. Rakna Arakshaka is a government owned business. The issue is when a private company gets into a business that is entirely legitimate for a legitimate and sovereign government to do.”
There lies the rub: if Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Limited were to carry out this business, apart from lending unsurpassed legitimacy to the transaction, income would not have to be shared amongst private companies. The Sri Lanka Navy is said to lose out on a Rs 300 Million revenue stream and the new arrangements are estimated to cost the vessels’ owners at least USD 2,000 more. Taking into account all of these factors, local maritime sources were puzzled as to why a private company is required to do this business when the Sri Lanka Navy – now enjoying the benefits of a peace time environment – and Rakna Arakshaka Lanka are perfectly capable and have the financial and human resources, to successfully carry out this business. The role of Avant Garde becomes rather fuzzy and has become the chief catalyst of unhappiness amongst the Ceylon Association of Shipping Agents some of whose members are concerned that yet another dent is being made on their income stream.
The use of Avant Garde has become the focus of concern and attention because although they are not a government agency – and therefore unable to issue acceptable end user certification and provide proof-positive about the origins of the weaponry and equipment – that is exactly what they are proposing to do after the 15th of October 2012.
The seas in the Gulf of Aden have been dominated by piracy. In spite of the presence of the US and British Navies as well as the Navies of other nations from time to time, the problem of piracy appears to have matured and the Somali pirates have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with. A growing list of countries are relying on military muscle to protect their maritime interests. The Indian government have been joined by the Kuwaitis in placing armed personnel on board their vessels. Somali pirates holding on to some Indian hostages refusing to release them until the Indian government releases Somali prisoners held in India. The Somali Pirates have claimed that the persons held are not pirates but innocent Somali fishermen. NATO reported that there was no suspicious activity in the area (termed the High Risk Area or HRA) from September 26th to October 2nd but urged all Masters to be vigilant.
THE European Union is also patrolling the HRA and recently captured a skiff with 7 suspected pirates on board. The EU patrol vessel had noticed that the pirates were carrying a 20 foot ladder and several drums when they were caught out. The skiff was destroyed after intelligence was gathered.  Speaking about the successful capture of the skiff, Rear Admiral Potts, who is the Operation Commander of the EU Naval Force said “This was the first sighting of a suspect pirate vessel in the Somali Basin for over 3 months and EU Naval Force got to it before it had a chance of carrying out an attack on ships transiting the area. “We knew, as the monsoon period ended this month that pirates would try their luck at sea and this is why we have constantly warned against complacency. My message to the pirates is clear – we are watching you and we plan to capture you if you put to sea. Equally, this is an indication that pirates still intend to get out to sea and all involved in countering piracy, whether they are the military or industry must remain vigilant and prepared.

Is It Illegal?

The issue here is the use of an essentially private company – Avant Garde – to hire weapons and equipment to the vessels. Our source elaborated that “when Rakna Arakshaka Lanka deals with the owners and Masters of vessels, it is accepted that it is a legitimate government that is doing so. Rakna Arakshaka is a government owned business. The issue is when a private company gets into a business that is entirely legitimate for a legitimate and sovereign government to do. “It is illegal to use third-party weapons and the use of a Sea Marshal accompanying the weapons on hire is neither here nor there”. The use of Avant Garde has become the focus of concern and attention because although they are not a government agency – and therefore unable to issue acceptable end user certification and provide proof-positive about the origins of the weaponry and equipment – that is exactly what they are proposing to do after the 15th of October 2012.

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Navy To Lose Rs. 80m

If Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Limited were to carry out this business, apart from lending unsurpassed legitimacy to the transaction, income would not have to be shared amongst private companies. The Sri Lanka Navy is said to lose out on a Rs 300 Million revenue stream and the new arrangements are estimated to cost the vessels’ owners at least USD 2,000 more.

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‘Very Strange’

The Sinbad – reliably understood to be a minesweeper – has strayed into UAE waters whilst refueling. Ordinarily the refuelling would be done well outside of the 12-mile port limit. In what maritime sources said was ‘very strange’ the Captain on board the Sinbad appears to have allowed his vessel to be in UAE waters along with some 1,500 pieces of arms. An official for Avant Garde claimed that the vessel was in international waters when arrested along with two other vessels by the UAE coastguard.

1 Comment for “Arabian Sea Maritime Security Temporarily At Risk”

  1. Basically, Sri Lanka increased costs to such an extent that greed was a contributing factor just like Muscat, Oman. These two countries have now shot themselves in the foot by jumping on the band wagon and attempting to take advantage of the strategic locations for shipping. Everyone is supposed to be working together to suppress piracy but far too often petty differences between countries laws, politics and internal security problems interferes with what marsec companies are trying to achieve. The CMF appears to be working well with all the different nationalities but private companies are sometimes finding themselves swimming against the tide.

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