Not any more

Smugglers may have made more than $20-million from Tamil ship

In Canada on August 15, 2010 at 10:29

VICTORIA — The human smugglers behind the MV Sun Sea may have pocketed more than $20-million for ferrying a shipload of Sri Lankan migrants to the British Columbia coast last week.

The passengers each paid $40,000 to $50,000 for the three-month journey from Thailand, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told the National Post in an interview this weekend.

He said his officials had advised him the Tamil Tigers rebel organization was behind the operation, which he said was driven by profit motives.

While he said he did not know whether children or families got discounts, he said that considering a ship like the Sun Sea costs about $1-million, the profit margin was significant.

“There’s a tremendous amount of money to be made,” the minister said.

The smugglers had refitted the 59-metre cargo ship to maximize their profits, he said.

“All I can say is that the debriefing that I received was that it is clear that this is the product of the efforts of an organized criminal enterprise.

“In fact, the Sun Sea itself was modified in order to make this trip and maximize the number of persons and the resulting profits.

For example, he said a sanitation system had been installed to accommodate a large number of people for a lengthy voyage.

“So the evidence that I’ve been provided with at this point shows that it’s a sophisticated operation that has deliberately taken advantage of our system.”

He said this was not a case of “people jumping on the first cargo ship that happened to come by.”

Rather, it was a deliberate attempt to make money by cramming as many people as possible onto a small ship, he said.

Asked who was behind it, he said, “The evidence presented to me suggests that it’s elements of the Tamil Tigers or LTTE.”

The Tamil Tigers are guerrillas who fought a lengthy war for independence from Sri Lanka until they were decisively defeated by government forces in May 2009.

Since then, there have been allegations the rebels are trying to rebuild and the profits earned from human smuggling are part of a strategy to prepare for another round of fighting.

The minister said there was no truth to reports the ship had originally intended to travel to Australia but had changed course after Canberra made it clear they were not welcome.

He said the ship’s destination was always Canada.

He also confirmed the ship had sailed from the relative safety of Thailand, not Sri Lanka, which is recovering from protracted civil war and where there remain widespread concerns about the human rights of the ethnic Tamil minority.

“The boat came from the Gulf of Thailand, between the Philippines and Japan and then straight across the ocean and following a similar, but not exactly the same, route as the Ocean Lady,” he said.

The Ocean Lady was a migrant smuggling vessel that arrived off the West Coast last October with 76 aboard, all Sri Lankans.

He said the fact they had sailed from Thailand would be a factor considered at their refugee hearings.

At a media briefing Saturday, Canadian officials said the migrants were generally in good shape. None had any communicable diseases. Twenty-seven were sent to Victoria General Hospital but most were treated and discharged.

Four adults and two women were admitted but they were also expected to be discharged this weekend, said Dr. Richard Crow, Chief Medical Officer of the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

At least 350 men, 50 women and 50 children had been examined by the Canada Border Services Agency by Saturday afternoon. They are expected to be detained for the time being in B.C.’s Lower Mainland.

“Due to the size of the vessel and number on board there were extremely cramped quarters,” said Rob Johnston, a CBSA official. “Having said that, the vessel was in much better shape than expected.

“It was relatively clean and organized. A system had been developed to dispose of waste and garbage. There were sleeping quarters on board with hammocks. On arrival, it appeared the men and the women and the children were housed in separate areas on board.”

He said there was a food area with bags of rice, dried fish and water.

“There was tarping done on the rear of the vessel, which had extended the living capability. … It was very, very cramped conditions but as for the vessel itself, being fully modified I did not observe anything like that.”

The RCMP is still investigating, said Insp. Tracey Rook.

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