Tamil-smuggling ship charged $20 million for passage

By Gurmukh Singh, IANS
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

VANCOUVER - Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Monday that the Thai ship that brought about 500 Tamils into Canada Friday was part of a organized criminal enterprise in which each person was charged $40,000 to $50,000 for the passage.

The amount charged by the ship works out to be about $20 million.

It was also revealed Monday that a 37-year-old passenger died due to some disease on the voyage and was buried at sea.

“This was a very profitable undertaking, even if the boat is eventually seized. Other boats may be waiting to see what the Government of Canada’s reaction is to it,” the minister said as anger mounted across the country for letting in the ship.

On radio talks shows, blogs and newspaper web sites, Canadians have demanded that the asylum seekers be deported.

The ‘MV Sun Sea,’ which was escorted to a Canadian forces naval base on Vancouver Island Friday as it reached Canadian shores after a three-month voyage, is the second ship to reach Canada after the Ocean Lady brought 76 Tamil asylum seekers here in October.

The minister, who had earlier expressed concern about “elements of the LTTE and the Tamil Tigers on board this vessel,” said Monday the ship was retrofitted for human cargo. The LTTE was banned by Canada in 2006.

“The sanitation on that ship was far in excess of what it usually be outfitted with. It was clearly designed to maximize the number of passengers on board and therefore maximize the amount of profit that the organization running this ship would achieve.”

The minister added, “This (smuggling enterprise) could afford a criminal organization with a lot of money. Whether or not the individuals on the ship are actually part of the criminal organization, certainly the amount of money paid goes to finance a criminal organization.”

He said since everyone on board the ship has sought asylum, “it is always difficult to determine who the crew is.”

Processing of refugee claims by asylum seekers began Monday. Once they are released, most of these asylum seekers are likely to reach Toronto where about 300,000 Sri Lankan Tamils live.

The Canadian government says it is looking at the possibility of reframing shipping laws to stop human smuggling at the source of origin.

(Gurmukh Singh can be contacted at gurmukh.s@ians.in)

Filed under: Accidents and Disasters

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