Exclusive: The Avant Garde Fog: More Questions than Answers

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ne could easily point finger at Sri Lanka for engaging in small arms smuggling to certain failed states in Africa or any other illegal actors.  

by The Sea Marshal

( November 4, 2015, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) During the past week we saw action on the maritime front with the arrest of MV Avant Garde by the Sri Lanka Navy, a tug which is operated by the famous Avant Garde Maritime Services (AGMS). The drama ended during the weekend with the handing over of the initial investigation report to the Ministry of Defence by the naval officials. Media reports stated that CID has already handed over their report for onward legal proceedings.

My endeavor here is not to investigate any of the above or for that matter any of the other issues related to AGMS. The whole country knows what type of connections the AGMS had before January 8 and the level of influence they had especially on the Navy. They were so smart to grab some of the very senior naval officers in to their management by paying a colossal amount of money (including few retired navy chiefs and a former DG of Coast Guard).

It is said that one former Navy Commander (when he was in office) was influential in breaking the hold the Navy had on this floating armory issue and incurred heavy financial losses to the Navy, and some say he earned nearly Rs. 30 lakhs as his monthly salary. In looking at the AGMS issues, it is very much evident that some of the senior retired naval officers (no one knows how many serving ones actually helped them or still continue to help) are at fault for not earning huge monthly salaries, but for betraying their second home, the Navy for a heavy price.

It is learnt that the AGMS owes the Navy a well over Rs. 580 million rupees for the services they have provided over the years. The AGMS has refrained from responding any of the letters the Navy has send to them over the years. Obviously this 580 million was not accumulated over the last month, this outstanding amount was well known by the very senior officers at Navy headquarters and especially by the former Navy Commander, who is now the maritime advisor to the President. Why did he keep quite? What actions has he proposed? What is he doing now? Many wonder what kind of advice he might have given to the President on this whole affair being the Maritime Advisor knowing his capacity, capability, and intellectual capabilities on these matters. He might have thought that it’s better to keep quite rather than exposing his real nature to the President, so that he could enjoy whatever the perks for few more months.

One should give the credit to the AGMS for having the capacity to drag some of the very senior naval officers to their company. It is said that some of them performed outstandingly well at AGMS when compared to their performance at the Navy (money can do wonders). This should not have been a major obstacle for AGMS as some say; they were capable of obtaining very close assistance from some of the higher officials at the Defence Ministry too. If there is a slightest doubt of such, I am confident that the Secretary Defence will take the most appropriate action to clean his ministry.

Let’s look at the maritime security implications of the famous MV Avant Garde incident. I am sure the Navy need to be credited for the outstanding job they did by detecting this vessel when it was said to no communications with their operations room. This event showed that the Navy is on alert and have the technology and expertise to conduct effective surveillance over the maritime space. With my limited knowledge on Law of Sea and other maritime laws and regulations, I am quite confident that the Navy acted legally in accordance with the powers vested on them. I commend the Navy Commander for taking very clear and precise actions pertaining to the whole affair. If not for him, this would have been another incident which would have very easily gone in hiding.

The Navy challenged the vessel, gave very specific instructions, got onboard, carried out checks etc., despite some officials at certain ministries were fast trying to send letters with many errors on them. I think some still thinking their ministry is looking at Urban Development too. One in particular has jumped the gun nakedly and got himself disclosed, and I think someone really needs to conduct a separate investigation into him on his behavior and for acting over his mandate.

Especially our neighbor has clearly indicated concerns over ill-regulated Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (commonly known as PCASP) and Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs) on number of occasions. And I am sure their concerns are genuine in many ways. They learnt a bitter lesson during the Mumbai attacks and I am sure that no one wants to risk their national security by allowing some companies to carry especially large quantities of small arms even near to their waters.

Imagine a situation where this ship in question was arrested by the Indian Navy/Coast Guard or by any other foreign naval ship patrolling in the Red Sea or in the high seas? Such an event would have caused a huge roar in the international maritime security affairs. One could easily point finger at Sri Lanka for engaging in small arms smuggling to certain failed states in Africa or any other illegal actors.

I personally believe that what we have seen is only the tip of the iceberg, many stories are yet to be unfolded, and as taxpaying citizens of this country we are all keeping a close eye on this issue. If those who are at the AGMS still thinks they can do all what they want by even bending and manipulating certain things, they have sure forgotten that this country embarked on a new journey on January 8. So the best approach for the AGMS management would be to change their mentality and attitude related to the whole issue. Because sending letters all-round the country signed by the AGMS Chairman while attending a so called surgery (those who are at AGMS exactly knows what I am referring here) will not take them an inch forward but will see the fate of those who step into quick sand.

( The writer can be reached at seamarshal2015@gmail.com )

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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