/ 27 January 2007

Sri Lanka sinks rebel boats to foil port attack

Sri Lanka’s navy attacked and destroyed three Tamil Tiger boats on Saturday as the rebels launched their first assault on the port of Colombo in 10 years, the Defence Ministry said.

Naval craft blew up one boat after the three were spotted near a restricted zone before chasing and sinking the other two, leaving an unknown number of casualties, the ministry said.

”Navy foils an LTTE [Tamil Tiger] attack at Colombo harbour, one LTTE boat destroyed at 5.30am [local time],” the Defence Ministry said in an initial statement on its website, before later reporting the other two boats had also been sunk.

Work at the Colombo port was briefly disrupted by the attack but was soon back to normal, officials said.

”This proves again the Port of Colombo is one of the safest ports in the world,” Ports Minister Mangala Samaraweera said during a visit to the site.

A foreign container vessel, Pelaponesian Pride, flying a Panamanian flag, was damaged by the explosion of the second rebel boat hit by the navy, Navy Rear Admiral B Peiris told reporters.

”A container burst open and came off its original position as a result of the shockwaves,” he said, adding the vessel was not hit by naval fire.

The ship, which last called at the port of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, was heading for a berth in Colombo port, Peiris said.

Residents reported hearing gunfire near the port’s high-security zone at the time of the attack.

The military said they arrested three people from one boat while the fate of others aboard the remaining craft was unknown.

”The detection was initially made by the land sentries manning the southern perimeters of the Colombo harbour High Security Zone”, who informed the naval craft at sea, the ministry statement said.

Tamil Tigers staged a suicide seaborne attack against the southern naval port of Galle last October, killing a sailor and a civilian and damaging several naval craft.

Rebels entered the Colombo port in April 1996, damaging foreign ships with rocket-propelled grenades, but the guerrillas’ craft was blown out of the water by security men before they could cause major damage.

Since then, authorities have tightened security and banned fishing near ports to prevent attackers mingling among fishermen. — AFP