Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Lone Sailor Left Holding the Baby as Government Officials Flee Corruption Charges Over Arms

Offshore Weapon Stash Has Echoes in Past Case
Shipping News Feature
SRI LANKA – In a case which bears echoes of the infamous Seaman Guard Ohio incident, the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) has appealed this week to the Sri Lankan government to immediately release seafarer Captain Gennadiy Gavrylov and allow him to return to his home in Ukraine. Captain Gavrylov was the master on board the Avant Garde which, like the Ohio was a vessel engaged in maritime security and piracy prevention with firearms and ammunition stores kept on board for the purposes of this role.

The ITF claims that in October 2015, the vessel was awaiting clearance to enter port anchored outside Sri Lanka waters on the orders of the company, when it was seized by Sri Lankan authorities and forced to enter Sri Lankan waters. On June 2016, Captain Gavrylov was arrested in relation to the illegal importation of arms. Since that time Captain Gavrylov has been prevented from leaving Sri Lanka.

This however is a case with much more political intrigue than that of its Indian predecessor. Currently in Sri Lanka there are warrants out for eight officials, including the secretary to the independent Police Commission, Saman Dissanayake. According to allegations in the local press Dissanayake, also a secretary to the Ministry of Defence, was possibly under orders from then defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa whose then deputy Damayanthi Jayaratne was also named as an accused.

The eight are charged with being involved in illegal gun running and money laundering centring around the affairs of the Avant Garde Maritime Services group, which maintained an armoury of weapons at sea off the Sri Lankan coast at Galle. The company offered to store up to 3,000 weapons on board for a rental charge so that maritime security companies could deposit and collect their weapons at will with no need to enter territorial waters where they might transgress terrorist legislation (as the Ohio crew was accused of).

The company website further states that weapons owned by the Government of Sri Lanka are available for hire on per-transit basis to Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs). A set of weapons always to be accompanied by a Sri Lankan sea marshal provided by Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Limited (RALL) which is a Sri Lanka government business undertaking, and which has been involved in a legal wrangle with Avante Garde, accusing it of corruption, a case it lost both in the Court of Arbitration and on appeal in the High Court. Several of those now accused appear to be on the Board of Directors of RALL.

It is this transfer of weapons which is at the heart of the situation. The switching of these munitions from the Sri Lankan Navy is claimed to be illegal and has led to the mass accusations against senior government staff. These include retired major generals Palitha Fernando and Karunaratna Banda Adhikari Egodawele, retired air vice marshal P. B. Premachandra, retired commodore Vishvajith Nandana Diyabalanage and former Rakna Lanka chairman Victor Samaraweera.

In the case so far Damayanthi Jayaratne fled reportedly to New Zealand last year and has refused invitations to return, Avant Garde chief Nissanka Senadhipathi apparently left for pastures unknown last week, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has also vanished abroad and is also facing a separate bribery and corruption case for defrauding the country of 11.4 billion rupees.

So where does this leave the skipper of the ship involved in this sorry state of affairs? According to the ITF, Captain Gavrylov is the man left holding the baby, seemingly unaware of any wrongdoing by those ashore. ITF general secretary Stephen Cotton, said:

“For over three years, Gennadiy Gavrylov has been stranded in Sri Lanka desperate to go home, while Sri Lankan authorities refuse to grant him permission to leave the country. He is a victim of criminalisation, and his continued detention is nothing short of a severe breach of his human rights.

“No seafarer, no family, should have to go through the experience that Gennadiy is going through. Over the past three years of detention, Captain Gavylov has been restricted from contacting his family, prevented from leaving Sri Lanka and prevented from earning a living. His health is suffering, he desperately needs life-saving heart surgery, and his family is left languishing without his wage to support them.

“International law is clear on the rights of individuals who are subject to detention by state authorities, if any person is arrested or detained on a criminal charge, they should be permitted to stand trial or be released within a reasonable time.

“Taking into account the circumstances surround Captain Gavrylov’s arrest, and taking into consideration his current ill health and the long time he has already spent in detention without charge, we implore the Sri Lankan government to intervene and allow Captain Gavrylov to go home.”

Photo: Weapons for hire as advertised on the Avante Garde, Galle website with (inset) the seized vessel.