Sri Lanka Bans Private Floating Armouries

Decision taken after a major scandal over the functioning of Lanka based Avant Garde Maritime Services

Published: 16th November 2015 04:47 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th November 2015 04:47 AM   |  A+A-

COLOMBO:Sri Lanka has banned private floating armouries, but Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs) will be allowed to function, Lankan Naval spokesman Captain Akram Alavi told Express here on Sunday.

The PMSCs have lost the right to operate floating armouries following a major scandal over the functioning of the Lanka-based PMSC, Avant Garde Maritime Security Services Ltd (AGMSL).

Earlier this week, the Navy took over the two floating armouries operated by the controversial company, which ironically was a Joint Venture (JV) with the Defence Ministry’s security firm Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Ltd (RALL). The JV, entered into in 2012, has since been cancelled. 

Capt Alavi said the PMSCs, of which there are now about three, including AGMSL, will have to get weapons from the Lankan Navy. However, the Navy will not supply Sea Marshals.  

From 2009 to 2012, the Navy was the repository of weapons that were lent to the PMSCs for anti-piracy operations in the Red Sea area. After the setting up of the RALL-AGMSL JV, which acquired two floating armouries, the Navy lost revenue to the tune of LKR 1.2 billion (US$ 8.4 million), according to a report.

Several illegalities in the operation of the RALL-AGMSL JV were discovered after the exit of the Mahinda Rajapaksa government in January this year. The AGMSL’s floating armouries had sailed in the high seas with weapons that were not authorised, police and the Navy alleged. 

In October, one of its floating armouries had sailed into Indian waters off Minicoy, and also entered Maldivian waters, thus exposing itself to punitive action by the Indian and Maldivian navies.

Permission to enter Galle port was taken from the Defence Ministry, but only at the end of the journey. When the vessel entered the port, it had 861 weapons on board, but authorisation had been given for only three specified weapons and three Sea Marshals. The vessel’s crew had kept its route a secret and also lied about their captain’s identity. Besides, there are money laundering and corruption cases against the AGMSL, which are being investigated. 

India’s Fears

Originally, it was thought that the Lankan government would do away with the PMSCs and give the job to its Navy, especially in view of India’s objections to PMSCs, conveyed to Lanka by its Navy as well as its Defence Secretary in the last session of the bilateral defence dialogue held in Delhi.

India had asked Lanka to regulate the PMSCs in the light of the sea-borne terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November 2008 and the killing of two Kerala fishermen by Italian marines onboard the Italian commercial vessel Enrica Lexie in February 2012.

But the Lankan government believes that the use of PMSCs is unavoidable, though they have to be regulated. The Lankan Defence Secretary had assured his Indian counterpart that Colombo would regulate them.

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