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Controversy over floating armories

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Floating armory discovered in the Galle Harbor made headlines since several allegations were made regarding its legality. However, Leader of the House, Lakshman Kiriella cleared the air stating that setting up of the companies, Rakna Lanka and Avant Garde Maritime Services and also that the recruitment of personnel and the payment of taxes and other dues had been done properly and therefore there is no issue as to the legality of the whole operation.

MP Kiriella further elaborating on the matter has stated permission has been given by the Ministry of Defence to Rakna Arakshaka Lanka to deploy sea marshals and also recruited retired military officers due to increase of the threat of sea pirates. He mentioned that deploying of sea marshals has been done in accordance with the provisions and standards as required by the International Maritime Organization of the UN in the Circular MSC1/Circ/1443.

Floating armories are known as a kind of a vessel used to store weapons, ammunition, and related equipment such as body armor and night vision goggles for use by Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSC). They are not purposely built, but alter have been converted and retrofitted.

Avant Garde
Avant Garde Maritime Services (Pvt) Ltd is a subsidiary of Avant Garde Security Services (Pvt) Ltd, and incorporated on the June 24, 2011 under the Companies Act (reference: No.7 of 2007) of Sri Lanka. Avant Garde Maritime Services (Pvt) Ltd entered into a joint venture with Government Owned Business Undertaking (GOBU) of Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Ltd (RALL) of Sri Lanka to provide infrastructure facilities for international maritime security services.

It has over 6,500 personnel and also has a perfect record of over 17 years providing land based security to many organizations including key blue chip companies, most of the banks and financial institutions, including Central Bank of Sri Lanka. They provide full range of total risk mitigation solutions to the global maritime industry and the company is also involved in providing total logistical assistance to vessels transiting the Indian Ocean.

Chairman of Avant Garde Security Services, Major Nissanka Senadhipathi talking to the media has told that the arms belong to about 270 foreign maritime security companies which provide invaluable services to protect commercial ships against Somali piracy. He has also mentioned that the companies provide ship protection and also to keep their weapons with them when not in use. Maritime security guards embark ships requiring protection against sea piracy.

Senadhipathi has further explained that according to Law of the Sea, protection to commercial ships can only be provided by private contractors and therefore no naval or any other state military are allowed on commercial ships. He has reiterated the fact that the floating armory is legal and that he will prove with evidence that it is hundred percent legal.

International Code of Conduct for Private Security Services Avant Garde Maritime Services Private Limited has been listed and registered as a private security service in the International code of conduct for Private Security Services Signatory Companies.
Private security service

“Avant Garde Maritime Services Pvt Ltd is a limited liability Company, established in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, registered on the June 24, 2011 under the Companies act Number 07 of 2007. The Company is fully authorized by the Ministry of Defence of Sri Lanka to supply Sea Marshals and weapons to any kind of vessels that seek security and protection during their voyages to any destination in the World. So far we have handled 120 commercial vessels. AGMS is also authorized to deploy its own armed Sea Marshals on board the fishing trawlers that are engaged in deep sea fishing in the Indian Ocean. At the moment we have altogether 131 fishing trawlers in the Indian Ocean with 400 Sea Marshals engaged in vessel protection duties.”
The Police detained a ship carrying 12 container loads of weapons at the Galle harbor named “‘MV Mahanuwara’. Later it was revealed that it was a floating armory operated by Avant-Garde Maritime Services and Rakna Lanka has granted Avant-Garde the contract which was operating under the Defence Ministry.

Also on January 20 armory with illegal fire arms were found in the BMICH premises by the Police. The premises was investigated and sealed upon receiving a complaint by the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), Liyanagamage Dayaratne alleging that the store consists of illegal weapons which belongs to a private security company.

Police Media Spokesperson SSP Ajith Rohana stated that the case of the floating armory is one of the most complex cases they have ever investigated. He said that the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has looked in to two major elements during the investigation. The investigations were conducted by focusing mainly on the issues like can a floating armory be maintained and can arms which are only used for be given to a private sector security company, whether the Ministry of Defence can maintain such a floating armory and the legality of such an operation and also whether government owned arms given to such private companies.

Illegal firearms
The ship was then put under the custody of the harbor master as ordered by the courts. The investigations will also be focusing on the nature of the arms and whether the former Secretary to Ministry of Defence has the power to hand over government arms.
The Inspector General of Police N.K. Illankoon (IGP) on February 28 said the investigations of the Avant Garde floating armory have almost reached a conclusion and the advice of the Attorney General would be sought to take the necessary follow-up steps.
“We have concluded recording statements from the former Defence Secretary and we will seek the Attorney General’s advice to take legal action against person responsible,” Illankoon added.Police Spokesperson expressing the progress of the case asserted, “Almost eighty percent of the case has been completed and the extract of the investigation has been sent to the Attorney General Department and we expect a quick response from them to take a legal action.”

Police Media Spokesperson also mentioned that they have recorded statements of 60 people regarding the case. However, when the Nation contacted Rakna Lanka, they refused to comment on the issue.

The lack of national and international standards governing these armories is an issue and it is also believed that if they were land based armories they should be much more tightly controlled.

The floating armories are in an area of the world with several armed conflicts, having large numbers of arms in the regions has the potential to be destabilizing. The armories need to be properly regulated with good record keeping to ensure that there is no diversion of weapons and the weapons need to be properly secured. We believe the best way to do this is through international standards.

Convener of the Voice Against Corruption, Wasantha Samarasinghe alleged that maintain a floating armory is against national as well as international agreements. He also stressed that this is a clear case of abuse of state power and he reiterated that legal action should be taken for the responsible people including the former Defence Secretary.

“People who are behind this particular issue are the same persons who were involved in other large scale financial frauds and also who abused power vested in them,” he said.

National threat
With the discovery of the floating armory concerns have been expressed that won’t such entity be a national threat to the country, However when the Nation contacted the Police Spokesperson regarding the issue he mentioned that he cannot comment on that since he is not authorized to do so and only the Attorney General can comment on the said matter.

Convener of the Voice Against Corruption,Wasantha Samarasinghe stressing on the issue mentioned that this type of floating armories are, in fact, a serious threat to the national security of a country.

“This is a serious issue which needs an immediate solution. Arms which belong to the government have been given to a private security firm, how the government can keep mum on such a serious matter which involves the national security?” he questioned.
Samarasinghe also said that they have information that there are several other warehouses in which armory are stocked operating illegally. Concerns have been expressed about the lack of transparency, regulation and oversight of floating armories.


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