The availability of real time maritime intelligence from South and South East Asian countries has been a key factor in the Sri Lankan navy's recent stunning successes against the intrepid and innovative naval wing of the LTTE.
"Both ASEAN and SAARC are now highly sensitive to maritime terrorism seeing it as a common threat, and intelligence is shared," an informed source told Hindustan Times explaining the Sri Lankan Navy's successful hits against the LTTE's Sea Tigers in the past year.
The Sri Lankan naval spokesman, Commodore DKP Dassanayake, had said that in the past 13 months, the Navy has destroyed 8 large LTTE vessels, 11 multi-day trawlers and six to seven small boats off the North, North Western and Southern coasts of the island.
Explaining the modus operandi of the LTTE, Com.Dassanayake said that munitions and dual purpose material were smuggled out in small boats and then put on mother ships anchored in mid sea. As these ships near the Sri Lankan coast, the consignments are loaded into multi-day "fishing" trawlers and then again transferred to small "fishing" boats and landed where-ever suitable.
"The availability of good internal and external real time intelligence and bold and innovative execution of action plans, have enabled the small Sri Lankan Navy to do a good job. They have achieved more than what they have publicly announced," a reliable source said.
Most of the multi-day trawlers had been seized in the Gulf of Mannar, between North West Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. But the big ships had been taken hundreds of nautical miles south of Dondra, the southern most Sri Lankan point, Com.Dassanayake said.
However, some analysts say that while some of the big ships destroyed ( like the three off Sumatra) were genuine arms smugglers, others might have been pirates roaming in the deep seas looking for prey.
Asked if there was an "Indian connection" in the illegal activity in the Gulf of Mannar off Siluvathurai and Arippu, an analyst said that many of the items seized were dual purpose goods which were not banned as such.
"Take ball bearings for example. They are good if they are used in bicycles but bad when used in mines! There is no law against manufacturing ball bearings and they are readily available commercially in India, as elsewhere. These may be bought and smuggled out. If there is an Indian connection it is just that the goods in question may have been manufactured or bought in India," the analyst said.
But there is increasing surveillance by both the Indian and Sri Lankan forces. "There is a lot of policing in the sea between Sri Lanka and India. The Indian and Sri Lankan navies and the Indian Coast Guard are active, but there is no fool proof measure against smuggling," he said.