SL Navy and French oil tanker crew rescue Lankan asylum seekers
The Sri Lanka Navy along with the assistance of the crew of a French oil tanker rescued a group of 27 Tamil asylum seekers on Thursday, some 500 miles off the Sri Lankan coast.The group will be brought ashore sometime later today.
The group had sent out a ‘May Day’ call which was first picked up by the Australian authorities who in turn alerted the Navy since the vessel was still in Sri Lankan waters, a senior official said yesterday.
The vessel had been adrift for several days owing to engine failure and had started to take in water, he said.
However several attempts by the Navy to reach the distressed vessel failed owing to rough conditions in the deep seas and later a distress message was sent to commercial maritime traffic in the area.
The Navy’s message was picked up by the French vessel that was sailing from the Far East towards the west, Navy Spokesperson Kosala Warnakulasuriya said.He said the group which was apparently heading for the Australian coast will be transferred to naval vessels mid-sea, some 40 nautical miles off the Dondra coast sometime today.
Two off-shore patrol boats have already been dispatched to the south to carry out the task which will be the first mid-sea repatriation of illicit immigrants, he added.Meanwhile the Navy is hoping that the Australian authorities would lend a vessel and other support material to combat the increase of people using the sea route to gain illegal entry to Australia.
Naval Operations Director Commodore N. Attygalle was quoted in the Australian media as saying that if the Australian Navy or coastguard could “lend them a ship”, Sri Lanka could patrol the area with Australian air surveillance help.
Meanwhile Naval intelligence director Nishantha Ulugetenne was quoted as saying in the same media that more co-operation was needed between the two countries’ Immigration, Customs, border protection and coastguard services.