Friday, September 20, 2019

Political Bun Fight Over Floating Armouries Strands Captain Away from Home for Over Three Years

Unions Support Seaman Who Has Been Held Without Charge
Shipping News Feature

SRI LANKA – There has been a wave of solidarity from hundreds of trade unionists from maritime unions affiliated with the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) for the plight of Captain Gennadiy Gavrylov who has been prevented from leaving Sri Lanka since his arrest on 23 June 2016 in connection with an ongoing police investigation relating to the Sri Lankan flagged vessel Avant Garde (IMO 8107036).

ITF president Paddy Crumlin, ITF general secretary Stephen Cotton and Oleg Grigoryuk, vice president of the Maritime Transport Workers Union of Ukraine (MTWTU), met with Capt. Gavrylov during the ITF’s Maritime Roundtable conference which was held in Sri Lanka.

Capt. Gavrylov has not been formally charged with any crime. During his three years of detention, Capt. Gavrylov has been restricted in his ability to contact his family, has been prevented from leaving Sri Lanka and thereby prevented from earning a living.

The ITF says this situation has caused significant stress to both Capt. Gavrylov and his family. Also Capt. Gavrylov is suffering from a serious heart issue and doctors have informed him that his condition requires surgery in the Ukraine. There is some controversy however with conflicting reports as to the circumstances of the detention of the ship itself. ITF general secretary Stephen Cotton puts the unions’ case thus:

“In anchoring the Avant Garde outside Sri Lankan waters, and subsequently entering Sri Lankan waters on the orders of the Sri Lankan Navy, it is clear that Capt. Gavrylov never intended to commit any crime. He was merely following what he believed to be legitimate orders issued by his employer and the Sri Lankan authorities.”

The facts as expressed at the time of the detention of the Avant Garde by the Sri Lankan authorities are somewhat different. According to contemporary accounts the ship had entered the Port of Galle under its own volition where an inspection revealed her to be carrying a vast store of weapons and ammunition.

To understand the situation it is necessary to look at the history of a Sri Lankan company, Avant Garde Maritime Security Services (AGMSS), formed in 2011 and which immediately entered into an agreement with Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Ltd. (RALL), a government controlled business linked to the country’s Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The two were to deploy a series of ‘floating armouries’, vessels stocked with guns and ammunition for hire to private security companies intent on defending merchant vessels in transit through dangerous waters. By staying in international waters their activities were effectively beyond the restrictions of any one state.

A circular from the MoD in 2013 allegedly warned all Private Military and Security Companies and ships agencies against employing any Sri Lankan security personnel not authorised by RALL. This was followed by a further instruction that details of all local security staff had to be registered with RALL or AGMSS.

All seemed in order until the country’s long term President Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated by Maithripala Sirisena in January 2015, elected on a promise of ‘good governance’. Ten days later the MV Mahanuwara, another of the AGMSS floating armouries, was searched in Galle harbour and over 3,000 automatic and semi-automatic weapons were seized along with three quarters of a million rounds of ammunition.

Accusations of bribery surfaced, along with tales of guns finding their way to the Boko Haram, the jihadist terrorist organisation based in north eastern Nigeria. It was into this scenario the Avant Garde sailed, or was brought, into Galle where a search revealed hundreds of weapons, some apparently with suspect serial numbers. Captain Gavrylov it seems has fallen into the middle of a political bunfight.

Since the seizure a senior politician has resigned, accusations of bribery and corruption have been freely exchanged, the AGMSS boss has disappeared abroad on ‘medical grounds’ and a retired Lieutenant of the Sri Lanka Navy, who had served as the Operations Manager for AGMSS has been arrested. Retired Major General Palitha Fernando faces charges of bribery, as does AGMSS Chairman Major Nissanka Senadhipathi in absentia.

The MTWTU has been and is actively exploring all diplomatic avenues to ensure Capt. Gavrylov’s safe and immediate return to Ukraine so that he can receive the much needed medical attention. ITF president Paddy Crumlin said holding the Captain for a period of nearly four years after he first arrived is a clear breach of his human rights and a classic example of criminalisation. He continued:

”Criminalisation occurs when seafarers are charged with offences related to their role at sea and is an issue with a rising profile at both the ILO and IMO. While charges may be justified, it is important that seafarers, and all people, are treated fairly and have access to justice. Capt. Gavrylov has been denied justice and, we believe has been unfairly criminalised,”

The ITF says international law is clear on the rights of individuals who are subject to detention by state authorities. These rights are contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Article 9 of the ICCPR states that every person has the right to liberty and that any person ‘arrested or detained on a criminal charge... shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release.’ This principal, and others contained in the ICCPR, are reflected in Article 13 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka.