Despite all odds, earlier this month, 492 Tamil refugees arrived in Vancouver in an old and barely seaworthy ship, then named the Sun Sea. The Tamil Ghost ship, as she has been dubbed, had been intermittently tracked by the maritime authorities of various nations as she made her way from Thailand to Canada, changing names and registries along the way. The ship was intercepted by the Canadian Navy as she approached the coast, and was allowed to dock. Who funded the voyage and even who the passengers are remains unclear.
Last year, the Tamil Tigers rebel group was defeated by the Sri Lankan army after more than two decades of conflict. There suggestions that the ship and its passengers were financed by the Tamil Tigers, which Canada has classified as terrorist organization. The Tamils are currently being held in Canadian jails while their identity papers are checked. This is reported to be the second ship with Tamil refugees to arrive in Canada within the last year.
The barely seaworthy Sun Sea eluded authorities for months, and baffled officials warn more are likely to come to Canada
The saga of the Sun Sea and its 492 bedraggled passengers – is the stuff of spy thrillers. A ship purchased by a man who was rich on paper, but lived in apparent poverty in a cheap apartment. Hundreds of people loaded onto small fishing boats and taken out to sea to rendezvous in international waters. A mid-sea clash with a Thai warship, the chase abandoned only when the so-called ghost ship reached Vietnamese waters.
The plan to take Tamils fleeing the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s civil war to Canada appears to have been hatched almost two years ago. But though authorities tracked the Sun Sea for months before its arrival off the coast of British Columbia, those operating the boat were always a step ahead, adept not only at moving people across borders and oceans, but also at keeping their operation quiet and covering their tracks.
But there is a trail. The ship that came to be known as the Sun Sea arrived in Songkhla on April 1 at the end of what was expected to be its final journey. Barely seaworthy, the ship’s previous owners had agreed to sell it for scrap after it made one last delivery of animal feed from Bangkok to this southern port city, which is known as much as a hub for human trafficking and sex tourism from nearby Malaysia as for its white-sand beaches and the offshore-oil platform that drives its economy during daylight hours.