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Tamil migrant ship MV Sun Sea towed to Nanaimo shipyard

[MISC, Friday, 8 October 2010 09:15 No Comment]

Amid reports of a third ship steaming its way toward B.C.’s shores carrying Tamil asylum seekers, the rickety vessel that carried 492 people into Victoria in mid-August was towed Thursday and will be berthed in Nanaimo.

The MV Sun Sea carrying ethnic Tamils from Sri Lanka was intercepted and boarded on the night of Aug. 12 off the west coast of Vancouver Island and escorted into CFB Esquimalt the next morning.

The ship had been docked in on the CFB Esquimalt in Colwood ever since. However, the base needs the space for Department of National Defence operations, said Bernee Bolton, spokeswoman for the federal Canadian Border Services Agency.

The MV Sun Sea was towed early Thursday to Nanaimo Shipyard Ltd., where it will be moved to a berth.

Border Services officials are not offering information about the vessel’s future, saying only that it will remain on Vancouver Island while an investigation continues into its arrival.

"An investigation into the use of the vessel during the arrival of a migrant ship on Aug. 13, 2010, is ongoing at this time," Bolton said. "Once the investigation is concluded, CBSA will arrange for final disposition of the ship."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday that his government will soon unveil a law to deter illegal immigration, in response to the arrival of Tamil refugees.

Harper said current legislation does not go far enough to deter human smuggling, which "will increase in the years to come, unless we make significant changes to our law to provide serious deterrents."

He said his government would unveil amendments to the Immigration Act "designed to ensure [that] we deter this kind of behaviour … which, for the vast majority of Canadians, is completely unacceptable."

David Charbonneau, spokesman for the federal Public Safety ministry, told the Toronto Sun newspaper by email Thursday that "since the rumoured migrant vessel heading for Canada is still in international waters," the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is the lead department in charge.

"If, or when, the vessel reaches Canadian waters, it will be Canada Border Services Agency taking the lead," Charbonneau wrote.

Bolton said her agency was not able to comment Thursday.

The people on board the MV Sun Sea were ethnic Tamils from Sri Lanka who have asked for refugee status. The Tamil Tigers are considered a terrorist organization by Canada and its members are barred from entering the country.

As of Thursday, 30 Sri Lankan migrants had been released under various terms and conditions. The release of two more was pending, and two remained in detention under stays of proceedings issued by the Federal Court of Canada. Of those 34, 23 are women and 11 men.

The remaining 409 adult Sri Lankans are in detention at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge while the CBSA, along with the RCMP and CSIS, tries to determine their identities and whether any are human smugglers or former Tamil Tiger rebels.

The MV Sun Sea’s passengers and crew – which included 63 women and 49 minors – said they faced murder, kidnapping and extortion in their home country, according to a letter released by the Canadian Tamil Congress.

"Each individual case will proceed in accordance with its specific facts and appropriate processes under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act," Bolton said.

The MV Sun Sea was preceded last October by the Ocean Lady, which docked in Victoria carrying 76 Tamil men, most of whom are now reported to be living in Toronto while they await decisions on their refugee claims.

The migration was apparently triggered by difficult conditions endured by Tamils since a civil war in Sri Lanka between the government and the Tigers came to a violent end last year.

The Ocean Lady is now at the Public Works and Government Services Canada marine base on the south arm of the Fraser River at Annacis in Delta.

[Full Coverage]

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