Refugee Ship Could Be Boarded By U.S. Or Canada

Refugee ship could be boarded by U.S. or Canada

By Petti Fong Western Bureau
Published On Mon Jul 26 2010

VANCOUVER—A cargo ship allegedly carrying more than 200 Tamil refugees is being monitored by U.S. and Canadian officials as it makes its way to the British Columbia coastline after being turned away by Thai and Australian authorities.

An intelligence source have told the Toronto Star that there is a potential for Canadian or American coast guards to board the vessel before it reaches Canadian waters as a way of deterring the vessel from landing.

So far, no one in the Tamil communities in Canada have made contact with any of the migrants supposedly on the vessel, according to Gary Anandasangaree, one of the lawyers representing some of the Tamil migrants who arrived in Victoria by another ship last October.

The question now is what is going to be the response from the Canadian government and will they request interception before it reaches Canadian waters? said Anandasangaree.

From a post-arrival point of view, weve had some recent experience and well do what we can to assist the folks. Our bigger concern right now is ensuring those who are on their way are safe and to ensure theres no interception along the way.

David Poopalapillai, national spokesperson for the Canadian Tamil Congress, said Monday that lawyers and aid workers are on standby in the west or prepared to leave for the coast if the vessel arrives in Canada.

We are very worried these people are putting their lives at risk. We fully understand why they are taking this enormous risk to reach our countrys shores, he said.

Poopalapillai said the congress is urging the Canadian government to help end the persecution of Tamils still living in Sri Lanka.

We dont want people to endanger their lives in this fashion and the only way to stop this is for the international community to work to stop the persecution in Sri Lanka. Otherwise this will be an ongoing thing.

The MV Sun Sea had been spotted in the Bay of Thailand in April and was seen a month later heading toward Australia. It has most recently been spotted leaving the southeast Asian waters, according to Lisa Monette, spokesperson for the department of foreign affairs.

Monette said the Canadian government is following up reports the vessel is potentially heading to Canada.

The government of Canadas strategic approach with respect to migrant vessels includes efforts abroad that involve stopping illegal migrant-smuggling ships that are destined for Canada at their points of departure, she said in a statement.

According to a report from the Sri Lanka Observer, the MV Sun Sea was earlier known as the Harin Panich and was used to smuggle arms, ammunition and explosives from Korea to Sri Lanka during the 26-year-long civil war between the ethnic minority Tamils and the Sri Lankan government.

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Sondra Kneen, speaking Monday from the Pacific-area headquarters in Alameda, Calif., that few details can be released and officials can say nothing about where the vessel is and what direction its taking.

Kneen said she cannot release information about whether the vessel has been boarded by Coast Guard authorities at this point.

Until the vessel arrives in territorial waters, it has the freedom to travel in international waters, according to immigration lawyer Narindar Kang, a former immigration judge at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.

When people have a well-founded fear of persecution, international law requires they be assessed for their claim and be granted refuge, said Kang.

Last October, the Ocean Lady was spotted and escorted by Canadian Coast Guards to a harbour in Victoria, where 76 migrants claiming to be Tamil refugees disembarked and were detained.

Claims filed by those aboard the Ocean Lady are still being heard and nearly all of them are no longer in detention but living in Toronto while waiting for their refugee claims to be processed.

In 1999, cargo ships carrying more than 600 Chinese migrants arrived on the north coast of British Columbia and claimed refugee status. Only two dozen of those claims were granted and nearly half of the migrants who arrived were deported back to China.