YAHAPALANA AND “WORLD WAR III” Part 4
Posted on September 27th, 2017

KAMALIKA PIERIS

Revised 4.9.18

Any military activities which would hamper US control of the Indian Ocean had to be firmly squashed.  Local maritime services, which were navigating the Indian Ocean, using sea marshals, combating pirates, protecting ships and so on, had to be removed. One high profile casualty was Rakna Lanka and Avant Garde. The foreign handlers of Yahapalana     did not want strong naval units like Rakna Lanka and Avant Garde   active on the high seas. Rakna Lanka became the foremost organization providing security of ships it this region. Avant Garde while carrying out its services had been able to gather maritime intelligence and had shared it   with others.

In 2006,  the Defence Ministry, on the initiative of   Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Defence secretary, set up Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Limited (RALL), a fully government owned limited liability company,  providing security services to important government installations and institutions such as the Mahaweli dams and the Petroleum Corporation. It was a state owned enterprise coming under the review of COPE.  Made up entirely of ex-armed forces personnel, this special security service was meant to eliminate the need to deploy army and police personnel to guard infrastructure and to release them for duties in the war zone. Rakna Lanka provided security services to 49 government institutions during and after the war.

In 2010, several foreign private maritime security companies led by Protect Risk Management Solutions Ltd and Varic Security Offshore suggested to Rakna Lanka that they should hire out armed sea marshals to be deployed on ships. Ministry of Defence gave permission to Rakna Lanka to deploy sea marshals.

The Maritime Security arm of Rakna Lanka was established in March 2011. Rakna Lanka became the first land based security company in Sri Lanka to have a maritime security arm. Rakna Lanka provided it’s first on board security team to Inter Ocean Services in 2011 to deploy on board MV Emerald. Rakna Lanka deployed sea marshals according to the standards stipulated by the International Maritime Organization.

When sea piracy increased in the western Indian Ocean, the International Maritime Organization marked out a High Risk Area where piracy threat was greatest. Private maritime security companies started providing security to ships going into this Area. They based their operations off Sri Lanka and obtained weapons belonging to Government of Sri Lanka from Rakna Lanka.

The private maritime security companies looked to Rakna Lanka because it was a government owned enterprise operating under the Ministry of Defence and all its guards were ex- service personnel well trained in handling firearms and fully vetted by the authorities. Furthermore, the weapons used by Rakna Lanka belonged to the government of Sri Lanka and there were no problems about the legality of those weapons. Rakna Lanka had authorization from the Defence Ministry to own firearms which could be assigned to their guards. Rakna Lanka had an armory located in the BMICH premises under police supervision for its sea marshals using the Colombo port and another armory in the Galle navy camp for those using the Galle harbor.

However, Rakna Lanka depended on foreign maritime security companies to bring business to them.  When the latter made a request for sea marshals, Rakna Lanka provided the men and weapons and obtained a fee for their services based on a written agreement. Rakna Lanka therefore signed an agreement with Avant Guard, a private security firm, to scout business for the firm.

Avant Garde Security Services was   founded by Major Nissanka Senadipathy in 1996. It was the largest security company in Sri Lanka employing over 6,500 personnel,  many were ex-servicemen. Avant Garde proudly stated that it has an unblemished record of over 17 years providing land based security to many organizations including key blue chip companies, banks and financial institutions. It was started not only as a business but to provide job opportunities for war veterans. Avant Garde gave employment to many retired ex-servicemen and war heroes.

Avant Garde Maritime Services was set up as a subsidiary of Avant Garde Security Services   in 2011. It would provide total logistical assistance to vessels transiting the Indian Ocean. No other private land based security company in Sri Lanka had entered the maritime security industry at the time. None of the foreign maritime security companies that had agents in Sri Lanka were involved in this niche business either. Avant Garde had done an extensive study of the maritime security industry before entering it. ‘This activity was undertaken not only as business but to provide job opportunities for our war veterans,’ said a spokesman.

In September 2011, Avant Garde Maritime Services, entered into a joint venture with Rakna Lanka to provide facilities for international maritime security services. Avant Garde was the twenty fifth private maritime security company to register with Rakna Lanka to obtain the services of sea marshals. This partnership between Rakna Lanka and Avant Garde took the maritime security industry in the Indian Ocean to a new level. Avant Garde became the most comprehensive maritime security system in the Indian Ocean and no foreign maritime security company could match it.

In 2010 a leading Taiwanese maritime entrepreneur had proposed to Avant Garde to provide onboard security against sea piracy for their fleet of long liner fishing vessels. They made a proposal to undertake this, to Rakna Lanka.    The project was approved. This was a business that Avant Garde had on their own canvassed and brought to Sri Lanka.  Avant Garde established operation centers in Seychelles, Mauritius, Maldives and Djibouti  to look after their fishing trawler sea marshals.   Djibouti was the centre of operations.

Rakna Lanka had established a land based armory at Galle under UN regulations. By 2012, the number of firearms of foreign maritime security companies coming into the Galle naval armory for storage had increased exponentially. What started with just 12 firearms as a temporary measure to help in the fight against piracy soon became a flood with well over one thousand foreign owned weapons lying in the Galle naval armory at any given time. The navy was at one point making around Rs. 80 million a month from storage fees.

Something had to be done regarding this increase of foreign owned weapons in the Galle navy camp. Avant Garde at the request of Rakna Lanka prepared a proposal to set up a floating armory outside Galle as a joint venture, so that these weapons were taken out of Sri Lanka into a privately administered armory without the Sri Lankan navy having to store such weapons.

In 2012 Sri Lanka set up a floating armory MV Mahanuwara in Galle under direct supervision of the Navy, Rakna Lanka and Avant Garde. Floating armories operated under   international maritime law and   under UN supervision. This floating armory functioned ‘without a flaw’. It became the first armory to be approved by the British government.  Sri Lanka informed Britain that Sri Lanka will be granting approval initially to a floating armory called the MV Mahanuwara, operated by a company called Avant Garde Maritime Services of Sri Lanka, under the authorization and the protection of the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence.

All three floating armories operated by Avant Garde in Galle, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Oman, were eventually approved by the UK government for the storage of  weapons of British private maritime security companies. Sri Lanka along with the British government was right on the cutting edge with regard to the development of regulated and supervised floating armories, said experts.

The investment in the floating armories, land based armories and the ‘forward operations bases’ on the other side of the Indian Ocean were all done by Avant Garde without Rakna Lanka or the Sri Lankan government investing any money. The international marketing aspect of the operation was also handled by Avant Garde.

 

Avant Garde received international acclaim for this operation. The Indian Navy Commander and also the UK based Security Association of Maritime Industry (SAMI) recommended the Avant Garde operation as a model for others. At the ‘Galle Dialogues’ international maritime conference  in November 2013, the Chief of Naval Staff of the Indian Navy, Admiral D. K. Joshi praised Sri Lanka for carrying out the business of having private guards on board ships and operating floating armories in ‘an entirely regulated fashion’ and regretted that others were not doing it in the same way. India should also go in for   a public-private maritime security service modeled on that of the ‘Avant Garde Rakna Lanka Navy operation’ in Sri Lanka, he said.

Avant Garde and Rakna Lanka had entered into other agreements as well. One of these was the agreement to transport weapons between the Galle harbor and the Katunayake airport. This was for instances where the weapons of private maritime companies would end up in far off destinations and had to be brought back to Sri Lanka by air to be used for another deployment. Transporting weapons by air was a difficult and expensive process and would be resorted to only under compelling circumstances. Being able to carry out the transfer of weapons from the Katunayake airport to the Galle harbor and vice versa streamlined the operation of the Galle floating armory project.

There was another agreement between Avant Garde and Rakna Lanka to have a bonded warehouse at the Colombo harbor to store the weapons of the sea marshals in vessels that call at the Colombo port. So long as the vessel remained in the Colombo harbor, the weapons of its sea marshals were stored in the bonded warehouse.

There was also a third agreement between Avant Garde and Rakna Lanka for the training of foreign sea marshals at the Katukurunda firing range. This was another income generating project which provided a service to foreign private maritime security companies by providing their sea marshals with the refresher training that was needed to retain their licenses. These courses were organized when a private maritime security company made a request through their agent in Sri Lanka.

In 2015, Avant Garde had made proposals for countering piracy in Gulf of Guinea and Malacca Straits. Nigeria and Malaysia accepted these proposals. There were four rounds of talks with the Nigerian government. Avant Garde has also started discussions with the Defence ministries of Togo, Benin, Ghana and Senegal. When this materializes there will be employment for about 8000 retired military personnel, while bringing in hundreds of dollars in income to the country,   said Avant Garde hopefully in April 2015.  Yahapalana government allowed Nissanka Senadipathy, Chairman of Avant Garde, to go to Nigeria to clinch the deal.

However, when the Yahapalana government came to power in January 2015, things changed for Rakna Lanka and Avant Garde. Yahapalana went out of its way to discredit Rakna Lanka and Avant Garde.  Yahapalana   seized the floating armories ‘Mahanuwara’ and ‘Avant Garde’ and gave media publicity to the armory at the BMICH, saying it was illegal. Yahapalana insulted Avant Garde saying it was an illegal organization, dealing with weapons illegally.   Also that Avant Garde had a monopoly position with Rakna Lanka. 75% of the Rakna Lanka profits went to Avant Garde. The selective targeting of Avant Garde is a mystery said some. That is not so.  Yahapalana specifically wanted Avant Garde out. Yahapalana appeared to be carrying out orders given to it by an external agency.

Yahapalana said that Rakna Lanka had benefited from government patronage.  It had acted beyond its articles of association by providing security at sea and for private organizations. There were legal issues as well with Rakna Lanka, Yahapalana alleged.  Yahapalana liquidated Rakna Lanka. The exact date of liquidation is not available.  Rakna Lanka  will be liquidated, and its function taken over by civil defense force and the  Sri Lanka Navy  ‘as was the practice earlier,’ said Yahapalana, in December 2016.  Yahapalana announced that Rakna Lanka had been established as a government affiliated security service to provide security to special institutions such as economic targets and public and private institutions. Now there is peace in the country, and there is no need for a separate firm to provide such services. The government no longer needed a private security firm.

Rakna Lanka did not keep quiet. Providing a maritime security services is an UN approved activity and there are procedures to be followed. Rakna provided the personnel, the weapons and the procedures. Rakna is a very profitable enterprise and profits go to the government. It became the foremost organization providing security of ships it this region. Destroying it was a crime, said Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

Rakna Lanka built up a successful maritime security service in the Indian Ocean region in my time, continued Gotabhaya. It is an organization built up with a lot of sacrifice and effort. Rakna Lanka was a company under the Ministry of Defence. It is a state owned enterprise coming under the view of COPE. It provides employment for ex-solders.

Rakna Lanka functioned with the approval of the relevant UN bodies. It provided security for ships in the Indian Ocean. More than 20 private security companies collaborated with Rakna Lanka. Sri Lanka earned a considerable amount of foreign exchange through Rakna Lanka and it continued to function under the present government until recently. Now government is out to destroy this successful maritime security service, lamented Gotabhaya.

Having started with seed capital of just Rs. five million,  by 2014,Rakna Lanka was able to grow into a successful government owned business undertaking with over 3,400 employees and a turnover of nearly Rs. 2.3 billion and profits of over Rs. 1.1 billion due mainly to its maritime security arm. The net assets of Rakna Lanka at 21.8.2016 were Rs 3264 million. It also held a deposit worth Rs 160 million from Avant Garde Security Services and 2.6 to be paid to Sri Lanka navy for using the armory at Welisara navy camp. It had 1972 security staff on land and   420 at sea.

Rakna Lanka and Avant Garde Maritime Services had been paying taxes more than Rs. 535 million to the government regularly since 2011.  Rakna Lanka had paid dividends to the Treasury too. The amount of dividends paid to the Treasury since 2011 exceeded Rs. 94 million Rakna Lanka ‘now lies in ruins’, said Gotabhaya.

Yahapalana cancelled the agreements between Rakna Lanka and Avant Garde   and the Navy took over maritime security activities from Avant Garde in November 2015. Navy took over all weapons held in ‘Mahanuwara’ and ‘Avant Garde’. In future the navy will handle the issue of weapons and ammunition to those operating private maritime companies. The weapons will be held in the navy armory and a fee will be charged, said Yahapalana.  But the Navy will not be providing Sea Marshals, that will he left to the private maritime security companies.

 

Avant Garde was very angry about the closure of its Maritime service branch. The Sri Lanka navy, when taking the weapons back,   had treated the Avant Garde employees as though they had done something criminal. ‘We did nothing wrong. All our operations were carried out with government approval.  Ours was a company which earned high foreign revenue for the country’, declared the indignant Avant Garde. They added, further that Avant Garde was manned by navy experts including 2 navy commanders.  The expertise of these officers should not be ridiculed ‘as it is happening today’. Allegations are made without grounds. This should be treated as downright betrayal, said Avant Garde.

Avant Garde countered the criticisms made of its work. Avant Garde said that the weapons they used were approved by the Ministry of Defence.  Avant Garde admitted that some arms went missing at the start of the venture. But they then rectified the system and now all arms are accounted for and are obtained from Rakna Lanka. In 2012   Avant Garde had initiated a system of Closed Circuit networks through a joint venture with Rakna Lanka, where any Rakna Lanka weapon had to stay within this network.  Weapons were not misplaced since then. In 2014, the ship used as floating armory in Red Sea was replaced by another ship from Sri Lanka which was renamed Avant Garde. This was a transparent operation and can be found on the Avant Garde website, Avant Garde said.

The anti piracy operation of Avant Garde   was not an illegal secret operation as alleged by Yahapalana, protested Avant Garde.  Avant Guard had full permission and clearance from the Ministry of Defense to provide security to ships against Somali pirates. It had all the necessary licenses.

Avant Garde has always conformed to national and international laws from the inception continued the furious Avant Garde, It has always complied with international laws. It has also paid all dues to the state. . Sri Lanka benefited from it. Avant Garde was very lucrative for Sri Lanka. In 2015 Avant Garde had earned more than 7 billion rupees in foreign exchange. 40% of this went to the government.

Tilak Marapane stated in Parliament that that Avant Guard Company was a company that is involved in local international operations legally. There was nothing illegal about Avant Garde. The floating armories are operating under international maritime law and supervision of the UNO. There were many corrupt deals of the previous government but Avant Garde was not one of them. Avant Garde weapons were not brought into Sri Lanka as such, a bonded warehouse system was used. The Ministry of Defence has given the green light for these vessels to come to Sri Lanka. It was done in accordance with the regulations that govern ports. There are international laws pertaining to armories and UN regulations, Marapana said.

Thanks to Yahapalana, Avant Garde   received much attention and much praise. Avant Garde has unparalleled achievements, brought in large amount of foreign exchange and   offered a large number of job opportunities, especially for retired navy persons, said admirers.  Nowhere in the world were such well regulated and closely supervised services provided to the maritime security industry with a streamlined system to hire out sea marshals and firearms for on board maritime security and a system of looking after the men deployed and collecting the weapons issued throughout the high risk area in the Indian Ocean.

Avant Garde operated three floating armories in Galle, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Oman,  it had Flags of Convenience in many ports, and had a large number of personnel at sea.  It is not possible even for a navy to develop this capability in such a large and diverse area of operation, said experts. Avant Garde was the undisputed leader of the 15 or more floating armories operating in the Red Sea and Gulf of Oman. Even the Chinese tuna trawlers in the Indian Ocean had Sri Lankan sea marshals hired from Avant Guard Maritime Services.

Avant Garde unlike other maritime security companies had more than 20 retired admirals, general and other senior officers and maritime professionals. They had received specialized training in maritime security. This is the main reasons for its success.  They have the best possible manpower, battle hardened retired armed force personnel, continued experts

Avant Garde has been receiving accolades and admiration from players in the industry as well as independent international experts in maritime affairs.  It earned international prestige and won the confidence of the merchant shipping companies and those using the sea lanes of Horn of Africa, said experts. It has received many awards including awards from recognized international organizations based in   Paris, UK, Brussels, Geneva and Italy. It has won worldwide admiration for its anti piracy work. The prestigious international Socrates award  made annually by European Business Assembly (EBA) to the world best business brands was awarded to Avant Garde Maritime services in 2016.

But there was no escape for Avant Garde Maritime services. Yahapalana was determined to axe this service. When Yahapalana arrested MV Mahanuwara many international Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs), who were steady clients of Avant Garde, had to abandon Avant Garde and go elsewhere, greatly reducing the business of Avant Garde. Around 150 foreign ships which previous sought service of Avant Garde to protect their vessels form possible piracy attack now stated that that they will seek such  service from elsewhere.

By the time Avant Garde was cleared by the law courts, the damage had been done. The resultant loss of revenue made the business untenable. Consequently, arrangements were made to bring the floating armory in the Red Sea back to Sri Lanka. The offices of the company in five countries were closed.  About 5000 lost their jobs due to Maritime branch closure. Avant Garde gave employment to many retired ex-servicemen and war heroes.  

Today, all the Sea Marshals serving in this operation are left unemployed. I ask the Navy if they have provided a single job since taking over this operation. I had provided employment to around 430 Navy personnel and today they are all without a job,” said Senadipathy. The  Shipping industry specially, in  Galle was also  developing into a thriving business centre for ship agents and their livelihoods were also threatened.

Avant-Garde Chairman Nissanka Senadipathy said  when Onboard Security Operations were  handled by Avant Garde, it made Rs.320 million per month in profits while under the Navy it had dropped to Rs.100 million, a decline of 70% of the profits. Sri Lanka Navy pointed out that ‘although we are accused of making losses, you must understand that we have only taken back our component of this operation while others are handling the other components.’ Sri Lanka Navy said it had generated a revenue of Rs. 2,260 million in maritime security activities, after the service was taken over by the Navy. Within 16 months it earned Rs 3 billion, from the Galle operations center alone. The earnings were deposited in the Consolidated Fund of the Government.

Navy Commander Vice Admiral Travis Sinniah gave a different history for Sri Lanka‘s onboard security operators. Long before Avant Garde came into the equation, the Navy was running this operation for nearly two years, he said. We ran this operation completely by ourselves. . Avant Garde which was a small security company somehow managed to convince the government that they could do a better job and the whole operation was then handed over to them. . The Onboard Security Operations was handed over to Avant Garde on a platter by the previous government.

Commander Sinniah said it was the Navy that initially came up with the concept of providing onboard security operations for commercial vessels. . This was not an Avant Garde idea, it was a naval operation and plan. Onboard Security Operations  was brought up by the Navy at the end of the war. After the war when the Sri Lanka  Navy went to various countries, especially the UN, they asked us whether we were capable of going out there and defeating the Somali pirates because we were the most robust small boat fighting team in the world. The Sri Lanka  Navy is ranked No. 1 as the most experienced and robust team , said Sinniah.

He said that when the Navy was asked us how they managed to get their convoys to the North through 30 years and be attacked so few times by the enemy that was so much stronger than the Somali pirates, the Navy had said they had a concept of convoys and a concept of small boats when they fought and had a concept of onboard security teams. Then they asked us if this cannot be used for commercial shipping and we said of course it could be used. So the concept was drawn up by the Sri Lanka Navy and they bought it. At that time they wanted the Sri Lanka  Navy to come up with a concept and we wrote a paper and sent it to the UN and also had the plan that we could protect commercial shipping all the way from the Malacca straights to the Gulf of Aden while providing onboard security teams from Sri Lanka. This was the plan that we had after the war and we implemented it, said Sinniah.

Senadipathy while admitting that he had great regard for the Commander Sinniah disagreed with all this and  challenged Sinniah to an open debate on the Avant Garde issue.  Senadipathy  said he had the documentation to prove that the Onboard Security Operations was not handed over to Avant Garde on a platter as alleged by  Commander Sinniah.  (Concluded)

 

One Response to “YAHAPALANA AND “WORLD WAR III” Part 4”

  1. Christie Says:

    Dear Kamalka;

    We are still living in the past. All our problems are heaped on the West, USA, UK and Europe.

    Those days are gone.

    Look at things as they are.

    Indian Ocean is India’s Ocean now.

    Indian vermin in USA, UK and Canada are directing the West, when in comes to India’s Ocean.

    Indian Colonial Parasites are controlling us.

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