The Navy has scored some remarkable successes against the most prestigious arm
of the LTTE in recent times. The latest was in the high seas off the island of
Delft on Monday. The Tigers acknowledged the setback yesterday.
The Voice of Tigers said that thirteen Sea Tigers, including a “major” were
killed in the fighting. The radio, however, said that the fighting was in the
seas near the Kachchathivu island.
The Sea Tiger boats appear to have been part of a large supply convoy, coming
either from south India or from a Southeast Asian coast with medicines etc.,
according to initial reports. The magnitude of the Sea Tiger system should be
more than clear to the Navy by now.
It appears that the Navy is finally making itself somewhat equal to the task,
capable of facing the LTTE”s challenge in the sea. The cost will be enormous
and is bound to multiply.
The LTTE will also feel the financial pinch. The “Sea Tigers” is the most
expensive arm of the organisation. It is central to the LTTE”s logistical
system. The development of the Tigers as a semi-conventional force was
parallel to the growth of their naval arm. The LTTE is the only guerrilla
organisation in the world that has developed such sea power.
Let us take another look at the balance of forces in the sea. The LTTE”s naval
organisation can be classified as follows:
a) international shipping
b) mid sea unloading
c) the units that run the supply line between southeast Asian ports and the
d) the units that maintain the link with the eastern province.
e) the group that manages the supplies that slip through the Indian naval
surveillance in the Palk strait from the many parts of the south Indian coast.
f) the special sea commando group that still maintains a dormant base on the
southern extreme of the Mannar coast.
The LTTE is generally very secretive about its Sea Tiger operations. The
leaders of this wing, except Soosai, are little known and are rarely seen in
public. Gangai Amaran, who is the commander and chief of operations, was
seldom seen in public after the LTTE moved out of Jaffna.
Hence, the Navy found that useful intelligence about the Sea Tigers was very
hard to come by except from cadres who were captured. And these are few and
The LTTE says that the Sea Tigers who may fall into the hands of the Navy
cannot reveal anything that might greatly jeopardize the system because those
who are in charge of planning, production and procurement are not allowed on
sea convoys or special operations. One has no way of finding out whether this
claim is correct.
Another reason for the paucity of useful intelligence is the manner in which
Prabaharan has structured the LTTE”s sea operations. The Sea Tigers come
under the military department of the LTTE and are not, as is commonly
assumed, a separate wing of the organisation. The attack groups, convoy
escorts, commando groups, the R&D unit, the production facilities, boat yards
etc., which constitute the Sea Tiger arm under Gangai Amaran reports
ultimately to the Balraj, the military commander of the LTTE. Soosai also is
under his command to the extent that he supervises the work of Gangai Amaran.
The external supply operation, from South India and the coasts of Southeast
Asia are under a separate department that does not come under the military
Soosai is in charge of these; but he reports to a special unit directly under
The international shipping of the Tigers, contrary to the myth popularised by
our intelligence-terrorism experts, is not a unified command run single-
handedly by the mysteriously elusive K.P or Kumaran Pathmanathan. Someone has
even analyzed a so-called K.P department of the LTTE which operates all the
ships owned by the LTTE. In this regard I can only make the observation that
Prabaharan was in touch with the north American and southeast Asian shipping
magnates who initially helped him lay the foundations for the system while
Kumaran Pathmanan was an inconspicuous first year student from Myilliddy in
the science faculty of the Jaffna university.
The LTTE”s shipping is constituted by more than a dozen companies which are
very rarely aware of one another; and these remain strictly commercial
A complex operation indirectly links a few of these to procurement. The
Tigers who buy or “receive” weapons (and the Tigers stopped buying assault
rifles many years ago) abroad know little about the commercial shipping
companies, except the details they receive about an offshore front set up for
the purpose of preparing the end user license and other documents for
transporting the material to Mullaithivu.
The LTTE is prepared to lose senior leaders rather than let some of its ports
of embarkation be discovered.
The countries where these ports are, turn a blind eye, fully aware of the
nature of the LTTE”s operations. Kittu had to go down with the Ahat because a
Tiger who handled one of these friendly ports was on board with him.
The problem for the government is that vital inside material that might be
useful for making a dent in the LTTE”s international shipping is rarely
obtainable despite the Navy setting up it own intelligence service.
But the Navy might hope to surmount this handicap by concentrating its forces
on the eastern sea board and the northern seas to successfully interdict the
LTTE”s supply lines from southeast Asia and south India.
The task also involves the neutralising the mid-sea unloading capability of
the Sea Tigers. The Navy appears to be making some speedy progress in this
respect. It scored most of its recent hits on solid information from its
greatly expanded coastal radar network, particularly on the eastern seaboard.
But it is still a long haul