By Dulip Jayawardane
The floating armouries in the Indian Ocean are a lively topic of discussion at present in Sri Lanka. Two companies namely Avant Grade (AG) and the parent Rakna Arakashka Lanka Ltd (RALL) are known to have stockpiled a cache of sophisticated arms for security of commercial shipping in the western Indian Ocean and the government agencies, banks and other private sector institutions, respectively and the storage of these weapons were in containers in ships anchored in the Galle harbour as well as at the BMICH.
The Indian Ocean floating armouries were guarded by the Sri Lanka Navy and the containers with arms at the BMICH were under the custody of an army unit stationed within its premises, which was also the head office of RALL.
It has been revealed in the local news media that the CID has started investigations related to the above companies to ascertain the legality of such operations.
Legislative enactments on possession, storage and use of firearms and explosivesThe storage, use and control of firearms and explosives by entities other than the security forces are governed by the Firearms Ordinance effective from April 1, 1917 with nearly 10 schedules issued from 1917 to 1996 and was legislated by the ministry that administered the Police Department, which was the implementing agency.
The Explosives Act No.1133 by Gazette notification of May 13, 2000 vested the implementation of the Firearms Ordinance to the Public Security, Law and Order Ministry Secretary and became the licensing authority for firearms and issue of explosives.
The Private Security Agencies Act No. 45 and the regulations made under this act were published in the Gazette Extraordinary No 1105/27 of November 12, 1999 but were given legal effect on January 1, 2002. The act clearly stipulates that private security agencies carrying out business, without registering under the Defence, National Security, Law and Order Ministry is an offence. Accordingly, 209 private security agencies were issued licenses at end-2002.
It was believed that with the emergence of a legal framework to control the private security industry, the government could better enforce standards which provide security to the state departments, corporations and other authorities, banks and private sector enterprises. Training courses are/were also held at the training centre in Kalutara where the ministry charged fees.
Gazette Extraordinary No 1681/3 of November 22, 2010 issued by the former president in the schedule took over 26 duties and functions that were administered by 22 departments, public corporations and statutory institutions for implementation of 33 laws in our statutory books as compared to the present president, who had devolved some of these duties and functions to his deputy minister and the other relevant ministers.
RALL had been established in 2007 as a Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL)-owned business undertaking in collaboration with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to provide the security needs of the commercial sector and the services include industrial security, commercial security, air security, maritime security and specialized training. As most of these functions, except commercial security, have to be carried out by the three services namely army, navy and the air force, which have the infrastructure for this purpose, the question remains as to what extent the three armed services gained by this private company.
This action of the former government led to criticism by foreign countries on militarization of the civil functions that should be left to the private sector. It is believed that most of these commercial activities were brought under the powerful MoD in the guise of national security, which is now a whipping horse of some of our members of Parliament in the opposition, who thunder at political meetings breathing fire! Indian Ocean maritime security – Awareness
With the above background, I shall focus on AG, which I presume is a subsidiary of RALL dedicated to maritime security vis-à-vis the Indian Ocean maritime domain awareness.
I wish to quote from the website of RALL, which has highlighted the following on AG: “Largest number of sea marshals registered in the world (over 700 sea marshals) under a single business entity” “Maritime and military experience” “Expertise for the specific assignments” “Over 700 top-class ex-military background sea marshals” “Excellent processes and stringent standards” “Constant focus on service quality and delivery” “Floating armouries storage and ease of access” “Comprehensive and continuous training of sea marshals” With the above details of AG, I shall now extensively quote from an article written by New Delhi National Maritime Foundation (NMF) Director Vijay Sakhula, titled ‘Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness – Analysis’ published in Eurasia Review on February 4, 2015, so that the reader can judge to himself whether there was any need to set up AG in Sri Lanka littoral state in the Indian Ocean and whether this company was operated at a profit.
Since al Qaeda attacked USS Cole and MV Limburg off Yemen, attacks in Bombay by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in 2008 and an attempt to attack a Pakistan navy ship by al Qaeda in 2014, it came to light the ineffectiveness of surveillance systems, the collaboration and effectiveness of intelligence agencies of the maritime countries of the Indian Ocean. Further, the surge of piracy in Southeast Asia and the Gulf of Aden/Somalia with the efficiency of sophisticated communication by pirates that were impenetrable, were realized by national security agencies.
Accordingly, counter terrorism measures to be effectively i mplemented, robust intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance have to be adopted to reduce the risk of attacks.
Three wide Centres for Information Systems Research (CISR) networks have been set up t o respond t o t hreats and challenges by pirates and terrorists. It is reported that these networks receive “vital information from multiple systems such as Automatic Identification System (AIS), Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT), satellites and shore-based electro-optical systems and radars to enable real-time data of ships operating in the oceans.”
It is reported that that with the initiative of the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), an Information Centre (IFC) was set up in 2009 at the Changi Command and Control Centre (CC2C) in Singapore. “It is a 24/7 regional maritime focal point and undertakes a number of activities to enhance maritime situation awareness.” The IFC is identified as an effective mechanism of “multi- agency co-operation and interoperability among national and regional maritime agencies “which facilitates technological and operational capabilities among maritime forces and ensures timely regional responses in a crisis.
It is also reported that the IFC is linked to nearly 45 agencies from 28 countries and manned by the RSN personnel and 30 multinational staff identified as International Liaison Officers (ILOs) from 12 countries who work together to assess the maritime security of the Indian Ocean.
Was the Sri Lankan AG exposed to such a security network and if so, what was its role in such regional collaboration not known to the public?
It is also reported that the Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) at Guragon in India is an Indian Navy initiative and “connects national coastal radar stations and other maritime systems and collates, fuses and disseminates critical intelligence and information about unusual or suspicious movements and activities at sea for use by Indian agencies.”
It is further noted that IMAC is part of the National Command Control Communication Intelligence ( NC3I) network and was commissioned in 2014.
On the initiative of the European Union, capacity building for maritime security awareness and counter piracy capability of the Eastern and Southern African/Indian Ocean (ESA-IO) region were enhanced under the Piracy, Maritime Awareness and Risks (PMAR) programme. The PMAR provides a real time “Maritime Situational Picture (MSP) of the Western Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden to the Regional Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre (RMRCC) under the control of Kenya Maritime Authority in Mombasa and the Anti-Piracy unit of the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) in the Seychelles.”
It is learnt that the PMAR is a “roll on” project operational only for 15 months from July 2014 to October 2015 and it had focused earlier on the Horn of Africa (2010-2012) and Gulf of Guinea (2011-2013).
There were also multilateral mechanisms for information –sharing and intelligence exchange in the past set up in the Indian Ocean namely “Shared Awareness and De Confliction (SHADE), the Contact Group for Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) and the Djibouti Code of Conduct (DCoC) to counter piracy in the Gulf of Aden and wound up as there were only 11 incidents of piracy reported in this region in 2014.”
Three challenges have been identified for an effective maritime awareness in the Indian Ocean. First, IFC and IMAC lack institutional and technological networking to generate an effective maritime awareness. Since “maritime security is transnational and transoceanic, these are not linked to similar agencies/systems in other regions such as MASUR, an initiative of the European navies.” Secondly, “the PMAR is temporary in nature and would be withdrawn or shifted to another region by the EU on completion of the stipulated 15 months. Third is the necessity of obtaining and sharing additional information about shipping, given that Automatic Identification System (AIS) is prone to data manipulation.”
It is also reported that “the Information Fusion Centre (IFC), which was initiated at the 18th International Seapower Symposium at Rode Island US, where navy chiefs of the participating countries acknowledged the information-sharing is critical for maritime domain awareness and since then it has become a common thread championed at various security dialogues and forums.”Further, it is stated that “IMAC could consider inviting International Liaison Officers (ILOs) from the Indian Ocean countries for enhancing multinational cooperation.”
Further, it is stated that “it is also a good idea to explore if IMAC can support regional Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) and Search and Rescue (SAR) operations and augment environmental surveillance through additional information.”It is suggested that the Sri Lanka Navy should actively cooperate with IMAC for the security of our territorial waters, EEZ and the deep sea of the western Indian Ocean.
Recommendations and conclusions
It must be stressed that when RALL was formed in 2007, it was only for providing security t o t he government and private institutions locally. It appears that AG was operating as a subsidiary of RALL as a private entity with logistical support from the navy. The revelations in this article clearly indicate that much activity on regional cooperation to combat illegal maritime activity focusing on commercial shipping such as piracy and terrorism in the Indian Ocean are highly effective and one could question the necessity of AG, a private company trying to duplicate efforts of other regional entities.
It must also be questioned as to how many employees were in AG and what their remunerations were, how many Sri Lankan nationals were employed and if there were foreigners, the foreign exchange expended. It is strange why the Sri Lanka Navy was not involved in such offshore operations bringing revenue to the GOSL.
The website of the MoD on June 5, 2014 stated that the foundation stone for a 12-storey new corporate headquarters complex for RALL was laid in a property in Colombo 4. The entire building construction has been awarded to MAGA Engineering Company and the plan for the complex was designed by Group Five International Company.
The total cost of the building was not stated by the MoD and it must be queried whether the funds were from the income generated by RALL or an allocation from the national budget for 2014.
Since RALL is a wholly-owned GOSL company, were t he accounts subject t o government audit? Were the annual reports of RALL and AG published and presented to Parliament?
In conclusion, it is recommended that the GoSL should wind up AG and assign the Sri Lanka Navy to coordinate with the other regional agencies for surveillance of our waters to prevent illegal acts such as piracy trafficking in narcotics and terrorism in the high seas. The RALL should also be restructured preferably converting this company to a private-public partnership (PPP) to undertake its legitimate functions effectively.
The control of piracy, illicit traffic in narcotic drugs, etc., are governed by Articles 100 to 108 of Part VII High Seas, Section 1 General Provisions of the 1983 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which Sri Lanka has ratified i n 1994. Accordingly, it is obligatory that any measures to combat piracy at sea should be in conformity with UNCLOS.