COLOMBO: Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on Wednesday ordered the Lankan navy to take over the operations of the Avant Garde Maritime Services Ltd.(AGMS), a controversial company which has a floating armory and which lends out weapons and Sea Marshals to vessels operating in the pirate-infested areas of the Indian Ocean.
The decision to cancel the joint venture agreement between the Defense Ministry-run Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Ltd (RALL) and AGMS, and to ask the navy to take over AGMS, was taken after a stormy cabinet meeting, the media quoted cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne as saying.
According to Economynext, Sirisena loyalists Champika Ranawaka and Rajitha Senaratne strongly argued for action against the company while the country’s Attorney General Yuwanjana Wanasundara, who attended the meeting on invitation, maintained that there was no case against the company. Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, who had earlier stuck his neck out and backed the company was silent. Law and Order Minister Tilak Marapana, a firm supporter of AGMS, had resigned from the cabinet earlier.
AGMS was chosen as a joint venture partner of the state-owned RALL without a competitive bidding process. Although it had earned foreign exchange equivalent to LKR 3 billion, it had been flouting the laws of the country as regards the entry of its armed vessels into its ports and the storage of its weapons on land.
Although it had secured Defense Ministry permission for its actions, many of these could not be explained rationally. It had maintained an armory at Colombo and many of its weapons had not been licensed. From some weapons, the serial numbers had been erased. In October, one of the floating armories of the company had tried to enter Galle harbor giving false information about the weapons on board and the name of the captain.
It is significant that the Indian Defense Secretary had raised the issue of the proliferation of private floating armories in the Indian Ocean at the last India-Sri Lanka Defense Dialogue held in New Delhi. India wanted Lanka to regulate those under its control and the Lankan Defense Secretary had promised to do so.