Toronto: Canada and its allies missed several opportunities to stop the MV Sun Sea before it left South Asia with almost 500 Lanka Tamil migrants on board.
According to a National Post report, on May 09, when the Royal Thai Navy, acting on intelligence supplied by Australia, detected the Sun Sea in the Gulf of Thailand, it was allowed to pass as it was outside Thai territorial waters.
Later in May, when the ship was reported to be having engine trouble in Cambodian waters, Canada asked for Cambodia’s help but Phnom Penh would not intercept the vessel.
The UN Refugee Agency also said it had received a fax purportedly from a Sun Sea passenger in July.
The letter said the ship was destined for Canada with hundreds of Sri Lankans but was having engine trouble. The agency was unable to verify the letter’s authenticity.
When the Sun Sea appeared out of the summer sea fog off the British Columbia coast last week, few in the Canadian government were caught by surprise.
The ship may have been one of the worst-kept secrets in the history of organised smuggling.
But repeated chances to prevent the crammed cargo vessel from making the risky Pacific crossing were lost, illustrating the apparent inability of governments to stop profiteers from exploiting the desperation of migrants.
“There’s no doubt that we, Australia and a lot of people knew about this ship and were it not for legal constraints, could have seized this ship. Everyone felt powerless by the current legal regime to do anything about it,” the National Post quoted a Canadian official, as saying.
The story of the Sun Sea, pieced together from interviews and documents, appears to underscore the need for greater international co-operation and changes to existing laws if the maritime migrant smuggling industry is to be curbed.