Grand Ph.D., (IUFS Russia), M.Phil., (Sri Lanka), B.Sc., (India)




'The Best means of protecting Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) and bolstering the full alliance is by the conduct of sea control operations for forward" – Vice Admiral Mustin.






The Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) working Group has offered an extensive definition for maritime terrorism.


".. the  undertaking of terrorist acts and activities within the maritime environment, using or against vessels or fixed platforms at sea or in port, against any one of their passengers or personnel against coastal facilities or settlements, including tourist resorts, port areas and port  areas and port towns or cities"


This definition, however, does not define what terrorism is and whether it would only include maritime attacks against civilian (merchant) vessels or also attacks against military crafts. I define maritime terrorism, therefore, as the use or threat of violence against a ship (civilian as well as military), its passengers or sailors, cargo, a port facility, or if the purpose is solely a platform for political ends. The definition can be expanded to include the use of the maritime transportation system to smuggle terrorists or terrorist materials into the targeted country. Maritime terrorism is motivated by political goals beyond the immediate act of  attacking a maritime target.



The Importance of the sea is self-evident. Life on this planet arose from the sea; more than seventy percent of the earth's surface is covered by marine areas; it is an important sources of nourishment, communications, transport and mineral wealth and it influences the climate and weather.


Sri Lanka is an Island situated in the Indian Ocean linked to major shipping areas in the Indian Ocean. The geographical location of Sri Lanka is significant in terms of Trading Maritime affairs and the Military use of the Indian Ocean. Since Sri Lanka is more exposed to the sea of Indian Ocean, the threat posed by the Foreign Naval Powers had affected the country over a long period of time.  The Naval super powers of from 5th century had invaded the coastal belt of Sri Lanka regularly, the Protugees, Dutch and British's are the more significant invaders , who occupied the coastal belt and later captured the country.



The power of Naval forces had been well studied and understood by the LTTE when they emerged as a Terrorist Organization. The coastal belt of North & East, mainly domicile by the Tamil minority, became vulnerable. The LTTE established a strong Maritime Military wing namely “Sea Tigers    under the leadership of "Soosai " to engage the Sri Lanka Navy in the Northern and Eastern seas and to facilitate sea transportation of Military Hardware to the LTTE. Further, to add more strength a new wing called "Black Sea Tigers"   was also established in order to carry out suicide attacks on Sri Lankan Navy and the ships who were transporting food and essential cargo to the Northern Province by sea.  In times the sea Tigers had been used to carry out under water attacks on the main harbours in Sri Lanka aiming to paralyze the national economy by inflicting damages to the economic nerves centers.


Development of LTTE's sea tiger wing and its activities in the late 1980s did impose certain restrictions at the early stages and some tend to name the maritime routs around Sri Lanka dangerous. This no doubt had economical impact on our country as well the neighboring giants during a certain period of time. Despite the small scale sea battles which broke out with the Sri Lanka Navy closer to the shore, sea tigers did carry out attacks targeting Merchants Vessels when they were sailing  especially in the Eastern coast. The Navy then had to double the work as the Navy was already entrusted with the monitoring of sea tiger moves taking place closer to the shore, deep sea surveillance to detect LTTE's illegal shipments of arms and ammunition along with the other tasks that Navy was entrusted with.


By establishing an illegal maritime network, LTTE was capable of bringing in their military hardware at the early stages. The common sea routes that the tigers used spread to East and West of Sri Lanka. A fleet of an approximately 15 rogue ships were in the hands of the sea tigers at various ports under various names and registrations. Accurate identification of a LTTE ship carrying military hardware was difficult without credible intelligence.


Thus; this article is dedicated to examine the existing laws of the military use of the sea and how it had been used against the National security of Sri Lanka by the LTTE, causing not only gross violation of the principal of “Peaceful sea " but also getting the civilian in North & East, to starve, by attacking convoys carrying, provisions to the innocent civilians.




The Legal Regime


The law of the sea dates back many centuries. In early time, sailors and fishermen established rules of conduct. In Roman times, the sea was considered rescommunize or res extra commercial, that is, the sea was considered commonproperty to be used for the benefit of all, or, put in the negative, it was not open to acquisition by the occupation of states or individuals. No state could lay claim to any part of the sea.


What ensued in the 1600's was, as professor Sohan  terms it, "the battle of the books".  The battle involved classic defenses of two conflicting principals on the governance of the sea. In 1609, Hugo Grotius, an eminent Dutch international lawyer, published Mare Liberum (" The Sea Free"), in which he argued that states were not capable of exercising dominion over the high seas. Grotius reasoned that the seas could not be physically controlled by nations; that a property right in the sea could only be recognized if the sea and its objects could be seized or enclosed; and, since it was impossible to seize or enclose the sea, it was under the dominion of God and its resources were the property of all mankind. Grotius is frequently called "the father of modern international law" but his motives in writing Mare Liberum  were not without self-interest. He was writing as a lawyer commissioned by the Dutch government against Portuguese claims to an exclusive trade route to the Indies through the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean, attempting to demonstrate that the sea was not capable of private dominion.


In 1635, John Selden, an English parliamentarian, defended the competing principle in his book, Mare Calusum (" The Sea closed"). Selden's book was intended to counter Grotius' argument for freedom of the seas. Selden argued that the sea was capable of private dominion and that sovereignty principles applicable to land could be extended to the sea. Selden's argument is akin to the principle of res nullius: an asset not under the ownership or sovereignty of anyone is open to exploitation and exclusive claims by the first occupier.


For the next three hundred years, the principles of mare liberum and mare clausum competed with each other, but, for the most part, Grotius' argument for freedom of the seas prevailed. Britain itself favored the freedom of the high seas position when it became a superior maritime power in the eighteenth century. Both the principle of sovereignty and the principle of freedom of the high seas tend to expand, and the boundary between the two principles is constantly changing; the tension results in the pendulum swaying one way or the other at different periods of time.


The ownership to the Sea immerged and delimitation had been accepted by the coastal and non coastal state after signing the United Nations convention Law of the Sea in year 1982. The Coastal countries claimed ownership to the territorial sea which is 12 miles from the mainland and contagious Zone for the 12 miles, the exclusive economic zone from the base line the rights.   The coastal state demarcated three areas as their territory and the rights of each territory varied according to the state practice United Nations Organization made a invaluable effort to regulate these issues and finally was able to formulate, the United Nation convention of Law of the Sea – III (UNCOLS- III)  under the article 88, 141 and 301  clearly states that the sea should be used only for peaceful purposes.


Further it may be noted that neither article 301 of the Law of the Sea Convention, headed "Peaceful uses of the seas" which obliges all States to refrain from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the principles of International law embodied in the United Nations Charter when using the seas, nor article 88 of the Convention which reserves the high seas for "Peaceful purposes" nor article 141, which reserves the International Sea Bed Area exclusively for peaceful purpose is generally understood to forbid anything other than aggressive actions at sea. Certainly the major naval powers do not regard any of these articles as imposing restraints upon routine naval operations.



Sea Tigers background

As the Tamil insurgency gained strength, the LTTE required that much of its supplies to be smuggled in by sea. It was soon realized that a naval component was needed to complement the land-based guerrilla forces. The leader of the LTTE, Velupillai Prabhakaran, understood the necessity of a naval force.

The Sea Tigers were officially founded in 1984. In the first years its primary task was smuggling personnel and equipment between the LTTE's bases in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, in particular Jaffna. As the Sea Tiger cadres gained experience, it took on offensive operations against the Sri Lankan Navy.

The leader, 'Admiral', of the Sea Tigers was said to be Soosai. The strategic implementation and execution of Sea Tiger military tactics were guided by leading senior cadre tacticians such as Lieutenant Commander Sri Ram.

LTTE Shipping Network:

The ships from 1984-2001included:

1.  MV Cholan, the first ship purchased by the LTTE from Singapore in 1984.

2.   M.V. Illiyana, purchased and operated Asia,

3. M.V. Sunbird, detained by the Malaysan authorities,

4. M.V. Golden Bird,

5.  M.V. Ahat, destroyed by Indian navy as M.V Yahata,

6. M.T. Showamaru, a Japanese merchant tanker,

7. M.V. Omiross,

8. M.V. Emerald,

9. M.V. Swene, also operated as M.V. Baris,

10. M.V. Akatsu, Japanese built,

11. UV Blue Hawk, a 96 seated passenger ferry, but used as a utility vessel for           transporting cargo, Japanese built with a US engine,    

12.  M.V. Satsuma, Japanese built,

13.  MV Orion 1,

14.  FV Horizon,

15.  M.T. Mariama, Japanese built,

16.  M.V. Daishin, Japanese built,

17. M.V. Seishin, Japanese built,

18.  U.V. Magamai, Japanese built,

19.   U.V. Rakuy, Japanese built,

20. M.V. Matsushima, Japanese built

21.  M.T. Shoshin, Japanese built

22. M.T. Manyoshi, Japanese built

23.  M.V. Shinwa, Japanese built

24.  M.V. Seiko, Japanese built After 2001,

25. M.T. Seyo, Japanese built

26. M.T. Koshia, South Korean built  

27.  M.T. Kyoi, Japanese built

28.        M.T. Koi, Japanese built 



I.   In October 1994 LTTE destroyed the MV Ocean Trader off Vettilaikerni

II.   In June 1995 LTTE destroyed the MV Sea Dancer off Kankesanturai

III.  In August  1995 LTTE attacked the MV Lanka Muditha off Kankesanturai

IV.   In August 1995 LTTE hijacked and looted the MV Irish Mona off Mulaithivu

V.   In April 1996, the LTTE staged an abortive attack on the port of Colombo and damaged three foreign owned vessels.

VI. In August 1996, the LTTE blasted a Philippine registered cargo ship MV Princess Wave with underwater explosives while it was loading mineral sands at Pulmoddai. The cargo was for a Japanese consignee. 15 soldiers were killed.

VII.  In May 1997, the LTTE blasted MV Athena a Greek registered bulk carrier while in anchor in Trincomalee.

VIII    In July 1997, the LTTE set fire to a 500 seat passenger ferry MV Mission, an Indonesian flagged vessel, transporting Tamil civilians from Mannar to Jaffna.

IX.  In July 1997, the LTTE captured the North Korean registered, flagged, and crewed MV Morang Bong, a 3000 ton general cargo vessel, which was anchored off point Pedro. It had delivering a consignment of food to the Jaffna Peninsula.

X.   In September 1997, the LTTE captured a Panama-registered, Chinese owned MV Cordiality, a bulk carrier, which was transporting essential food cargo. 5 Chinese were killed.

XI.  In August 1998, the LTTE hijacked the Indian owned MV Princess Kashoff Mullaittivu. The 6000 ton ship, chartered from Dubai based Goodwill Company was transporting cement, dry food rations and vehicles for civilian use in Jaffna.

XII.  In July 1999, LTTE destroyed the MV Newco Endurance at Trincomalee Harbour

XIII.  In September 1999, LTTE attacked the MV Julia off North of Mullativu.

XIV.  In June 2000, LTTE destroyed the MV Meres Uhana off Point Pedro

XV.     In September 2001, LTTE attacked the MV Pride off Point Pedro.

XVI. In October 2001, LTTE attacked the MT Dunhinda off Point Pedro.

XVII. In Marcfh 2003, a Chinese Fishing trawler named 'Fu Yuan Ya 225' was captured and was exploded by the LTTE, killing 20 of its crew members.

XVIII.  In December  2006, the LTTE attacked the Jordanian Vessel MV Farah II and looted the ship

XIX.     In January 2007, MV Liverpool delivering relief supplies to Jaffna was attacked off Point Pedro.


Detection of LTTE Arms Shipments/Equipment


I. In December 1990, MV Sun Bird was  detained by Malaysian authority in Penan, Malaysia.

II.  In November  1991, MV Tongnova was detained by Indian Navy off Karailkal

III.  In January 1993, MV Ahat was scuttled  by LTTE off bay of Bengal

IV.  In February 1996, MV Horizon was destroyed by SLN off Mullaithivu

V.    In November 1997, MV Fratzescom was destroyed by SLN off Mullaithivu

VI.  In March 1998, MV mariamma was scuttled by LTTE off West of Nichobar

VII. In May 1999, MV Showamaru was detected off West  of Nichobar Island

VIII. In April 2000, Thai authorities discovered half built mini submarine in Phuket

IX.    In September 2006, Sri lanka Navy destroyed un-named vessel off Kalmunai

X.      In February 2007, Sri Lanka Navy destroyed un-named vessel off South of Dondra

XI.   In march 2007, Sri Lanka Navy destroyed un-named vessel off South East of Arugambay

XII.  In May 2007, Indian fishing trawler Sri Krishna was sunk by Maldivian National Defense Force while it was transporting ammunition to LTTE off Maldivian territorial waters.



The Disruption of the LTTE Shipping Network:

The decline of the LTTE was driven by four factors. One of them was the destruction of the LTTE shipping fleet. The others were the defection of Karuna, the overall military commander and Eastern commander of the LTTE over a disagreement with Prabhakaran, the increase in the Sri Lankan military strength enabling the military to fight in multiple theatres, and LTTE conscription and taxation. The LTTE failed to replenish its material wastage by sea. 

i)             LTTE MT Kioshi captained by Murugan with 16 crew members was destroyed off Dondra by the Sri Lanka Navy on February 28, 2007. The ship transported about 600 numbers of 120mm shells, 150 numbers of 130mm shells, and 25 barrels of aircraft fuel on the ship. The LTTE ship was 185 NM in the southern seas off Dondra.


ii)           An Indian trawler Sri Krishna hijacked by the LTTE was transporting weapons. When interdicted, it fired at the Maldivian Coast Guard on May 17, 2007.  The Coast Guard sank trawler and rescued the Indian engineer and prosecuted the LTTE crew. The debriefing provided insights into where the LTTE warehouses were floating.


iii)          LTTE MT Eyoshi, a new tanker, captained by Lt. Col. Issaikon was destroyed on March 18, 2007.  The tanker carried T56 guns, 130 and 152 artillery guns, 130, 120, and 85 mortar guns, and 130 mm, 152 mm, 122 mm, 120 mm, 81 mm shells. In addition to oil, grease and a heavy electric engine, cloth to stitch military uniforms and shoes, the ship also carried outboard engines – Suzuki, Yamaha, Johnson 250 hp. The vessel was destroyed by the Sri Lanka navy in the seas southeast of Arugam-Bay.


iv)          LTTE M.T. Koshia captained by Amman was destroyed together with two others ships in the seas southeast of Dondra by the Sri Lankan navy on September 10/11, 2007. The ship, also known as MV Goishin alias MV Joishin alias MV Jeishin, had the IMO No. 8518948. In addition to transporting 29,000 artillery rounds (152mm and 122mm) and artillery guns, the ship was transporting 9,000 numbers of 82 mm shells, 1500 numbers of 130 mm shells, and 50,000 numbers of 152 mm shells and an unknown quantity of air fuel.


v)           LTTE M.V. Seishin captained by Sobithan was destroyed in September 2007. Also known as MV Mann, the old cargo vessel with the IMO No. 8312825 was transporting mortar launchers, 60mm and 120mm shells, artillery guns, 2.7 mm and 14.5mm guns, 40-50 barrels of air fuel and 7000 cloth rolls for uniforms. The ship was destroyed together with two others ships in the seas outheast of Dondra by the Sri Lankan navy on September 10/11, 2007.


vi)          LTTE M.T. Manyoshi captained by Senpakavenan alias Senpgaselvan alias Semba was destroyed together with two others ships in the seas southeast of Dondra by the Sri Lankan navy on September 10/11, 2007. The ship with the IMO No. 8106513 was transporting a bullet proof vehicle, radars, GPS, uniform cloth materials, small arms and ammunition. MT Manyoshi was anchored off Indonesia and maintained a floating armory. Bahi in Indonesia provided the food and fuel.


vii)        LTTE MV Matsusima captained by Kapilan alias Kabilian was destroyed by the Sri Lankan navy on October 7, 2007. The ship with the IMO No. 8221571, was transporting 2000 numbers of 130 mm shells, 1000 numbers of 152 mm shells, 700 number of 140 mm shells, boat engine parts, HF sets, 03 numbers of aircraft, one number of land cruiser jeep, 1 number of bullet proof land cruser jeep, torpedoes, torpedo launchers, sonar, ski jets, diving equipment, swimmer delivery vehicles, and water scooters.




The maritime attacks carried out by the LTTE Sea Tigers in the Indian Ocean region has a long and bloody history. Besides attempts of smuggling arms and attacks on Sri Lankan Naval Vessels, the LTTE has been responsible for confrontations, boarding without permission, attacking destroying, damaging or ship-jacking a number of foreign-owned civilian vessels in Sri Lankan waters. These acts, broadly defined as maritime terrorism and piracy, constitutes a flagrant violation of domestic and international laws.


One of the earliest instances which demonstrated this maritime capacity was when the LTTE's former Jaffna commander and under head of the LTTE International secretariat Sathasivan Krishnakumar alias Kittu with a large consignment of weapons in MV Yahata (Mid sea changed to MV Ahat) was challenged by the Indian coastguard in the international waters, before the vessel was destroyed on January 19 of 1993. Since then, the LTTE has carried out numerous acts of maritime terrorism testing the patience of not only the Government of Sri Lanka and friendly governments of neighboring countries, but also those of ship owners flying flags of nations afar. Vessel flying Philippine, Greek, Indonesian, Panamanian, Belize, Chinese, Jordanian, Cambodian and Indian Flags have been at the receiving end of the LTTE's terror. This underlines the LTTE's capacity to be a threat to international shipping is clear.


As early as in 1997, the international maritime community assessed Sri Lankan waters as vulnerable to incidents of maritime terrorism. Maritime Intelligence and security brief issued by the Maritime Intelligence and Counter-Piracy Operations Centre on 10 September  1997 observed, "Sri Lankan waters continue to remain an extremely dangerous area for maritime traffic. " Referring to the LTTE, it added, "they will not hesitate to approach, board, pilfer and possible destroy targets of opportunity. " On a global scale, according to statistics maintained by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) at the time, Sri Lankan waters witnessed the fifth largest number of piratical attacks.


The LTTE had carried out ten suicide attacks  on Sri Lanka Navy vessels with the use of explosive laden boats before the Al Qaeda attacked 'USS Cole' in Yemen in October 2000. In fact the Al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole was a copycat of LTTE's attack on Abheetha, a Sri Lankan Navy supply ship on 4 May 1991. In a 19 March 2003 interview with the BBC Sea Tigers Chief Soosai was to state “I think in Yeman they used our strategy of targeting the hull in their suicide attack to blow up an American ship ‘USS Cole’ – this is exactly what we used to do”.


A de facto Navy in the region is an obvious risk to the regional naval and maritime security and International Trade.  The sea should be free of military activities, to facilitate the areas mentioned above. Any fleet of this nature causes significant military threat to the adjoining naval forces, its harbours and their activities, thus implicate severe security threats on their territories. The security threats and effects to the peaceful naval maritime activities create an in-balance in the regional peace and make a indirect effect globally.  The threat created by the LTTE in the region is not only limited to maritime terrorism, facilitated the International criminal network and organized cross border crimes. It is significant to note that India and Sri Lanka both   urged the UNO to declare Indian Ocean as a peace zone, demilitarizing the seas sourrending both nations, probably realizing the impending threat.


CONCLUSION: Points to ponder


Attention of world maritime security and its implications took a sharp turn after  the 9/11 incident. Even though the world paid attention to this aspect in the recent past, terrorist groups were engaged in maritime piracy as well as maritime terrorism. None of the bodies which analyze developments that took place out in the maritime environment failed to effectively put all the pieces together in order to understand the future global impacts. Surprisingly some of the maritime nations have failed to understand this reality and in turn they have started reacting in isolation rather than making combined efforts to make at least their respective sea areas safe for themselves as well to the others who use their maritime routes often.


Forward sea control operations conducted by the Sri Lankan Navy along with the formidable assistance with her foreign counterparts was the main success story in crushing the Sea Tigers of the LTTE.  The intelligence and the off shore fighting capability was the key, in the majority of those operations conducted. Dismantling the LTTE maritime supply route was significant, disregarding the consequences of the legality issues raised by the sympathizers of the LTTE. Nevertheless, no country in this world would let their National Security at stake, when it is threatened by terrorism.  United States of America is one country who defended this argument when WMD threat on them was exposed.


The LTTE was militarily crushed totally by the government of Sri Lanka on 19th May, 2009. Thereafter the Sea-Tiger threat has totally diminished.


Research Assistants


The following research assistants approved by the IUFS assisted me to prepare this article.


(i)          A.R.Waidyalankara         (M.Sc., LLM, LLB, Attorney-at-Law)

Senior Superintendent of Police

Director / Crimes, Police Headquarters,

Colombo 01, Sri Lanka.


(ii)         B.Mahil Dole

Senior Superintendent of Police

Staff Superintendent to I.G.Police

Police Headquarters, Colombo 01

         Sri Lanka.







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Ø  United Nations convention on Law of the Sea - III