Maritime mysteries: They're not just for Halloween anymore, and hopefully you'll find somethings of interest here to start your week.
I begin with the case of the MV Ocean Lady, a freighter that arrived off Canada's west coast last October (the 17th, to be exact), with a group of Tamils aboard her. In the last month we've seen some incidents in which people fleeing Sri Lanka's troubles by sea, on vessels, have ended up trying to get into Canada and Australia, provoking some worry about the real identities of those aboard. Are they legitimate refugees or, more ominously, are there remnants of the infamous Tamil Tigers, the militant group seeking a separate homeland for their people?
When the Ocean Lady was apprehended by Canadian authorities, the vessel was found to have 76 men on board, all Tamil, who were seeking refugee status from the troubles in their island homeland. But how - and why - did these men come to decide on Canada as a place to seek out, having endured what must have been a horrible trip across the Pacific on a small ship?
According to some reports, the ship left India at the beginning of September, departing Mundra as the Princess Easwary around September 8. Mundra is in the northwest corner of India, on the Gulf of Kachchh, not far from the border with Pakistan. That's a long way from Sri Lanka, though it appears to be the last port of call reported for the vessel. Sometime thereafter - if reports are correct - the ship was renamed the Ocean Lady and headed t0 Canada.
Some believe that the Ocean Lady was part of the small fleet of merchant vessels controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the mostly Hindu population who have been fighting for a separate homeland from the Buddhist, Sinhalese majority on Sri Lanka for decades.
Canada has both a positive attitude towards refugees and a strong Tamil community, which would be the most obvious reasons for these individuals to come here. But some believe that Canada may be becoming the last redoubt of those seeking a Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka.
Regarding the individuals who arrived on the Ocean Lady, it must be said that it seems odd that 76 able-bodied men would show up on Canada's shore, with no women or children accompanying them (as happened when Tamils arrived in Australian waters recently). Certainly they have legitimate issues about what is going on back in Sri Lanka, but their unexpected arrival off the West Coast does little to help their brethren, as it appears to many like a case of a few fleeing while the most deal with the worst. Which leads to the idea that these men are LTTE foot soldiers trying to get out of the country and help rebuild LTTE operations in Canada.
On the other hand why would the LTTE give up a valuable naval asset (the Ocean Lady) for just 76 guys? You could fly these individuals to Canada on a commercial flight for cheaper than the cost of shipping them. With the same end result. Kind of odd, eh?
So that's the first installment of Monday Maritime Mysteries.