SSCP will endanger country's security: Experts

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Chennai, Feb 16: Implementation of the Sethusamudram Shipping Channel Project (SSCP) will pose a threat to country's security as maritime terrorism and sea piracy are getting inter-mingled, a retired naval officer and master mariner of the Merchant Navy said today.

At a ''meet the press'' programme organised by the Coastal Action Network, scientists and experts expressed concern over the threat perception and demanded the Centre to publish a white paper in Parliament giving full facts on the economic viability, environmental and ecological sustainability, engineering feasibility and ethical tenability of the project.

Capt (retd) H Balakrishnan, who has 32 years of experience at sea, agreed with Coast Guard DG Vice Admiral Rusi Contractor's recent remarks in this regard.

''He (Coast Guard DG) is correct. I also analysed it. The project will pose a threat to national security as there is piracy threat from Sudan, Straits of Malacc and South China Sea,'' he added.

Quoting views of security experts, he said maritime terrorism and piracy were getting inter-mingled. Going by the world report the global ransom rate per ship is one lakh US dollars.

Referriing to the installation of the under-water sea mines by the Lankan Government between Katchatheevu and Neduntheevu, he said it was to prevent Sea Tigers, the marine wing of the LTTE, from entering the Island Nation.

''SSCP is an open channel and there is a possibility of the LTTE setting up sea mines, which is much cheaper when compared to acquiring surface-to-surface missiles. It's enough if just one ship explodes'', Capt Balakrishnan said.

Observing that the LTTE factor has a direct bearing on the safety of shipping through the SSCP, he said the outfit has control over most of north Sri Lankan coastal region and the seas contiguous to it. The Sea Tigers have displayed considerable ingenuity and daring act in sea-borne insurgency, he added.

Referring to Sri Lankan Naval Chief Vice-Admiral Vasantha Karanna Goda's remarks that there would be no threat to either India or the island nation if the project becomes operational, Capt Balakrishnan said he (Lankan navy chief) was talking from his country's point of view. ''He may be right from his country's point of view. But it is not when you see it from India's point of view,'' he added.

Pointing out that the SSCP is a nextdoor neighbour in the area of operations of Sea Tigers, Capt (retd) Balakrishnan noted that the LTTE had newly added ''Air Arm'' to its fighting capability and have carried out three attacks on Lankan assets.

''This is a new dimension to the threat perception along the SSCP,'' he added.

The aircraft deployed by the LTTE air force was the Czech manufactured 'ZLIN-Z 242 L aircraft' purchased from a private South African flying club, which could be delivered in a knocked-down condition and easily smuggled as automobile parts or components of heavy commercial vehicles, he added.

Alleging that LTTE's pilots were getting flying training from the flying club and armament training from South African mercenaries, he said all the air attacks on Lankan assets to date were carried out at night, which indicates a high degree of proficiency.

''The SSCP falls within the radius of operation of these aircraft,'' he cautioned.

Considering the threat perception, the SSCP was not viable both for the shipping industry and for national security.

''It is not viable for shipping industry, because they will be incurring Rs 19.5 lakh as loss per voyage in the SSCP route and the sailing speed will also be around six knots when compared to 12 knots in sea,'' he said and wondered on what basis people say that implementation of the SSCP would save voyage time, reduce the distance and save fuel.

Others who participated in the programme, included retired Navy officer Commander John Jacob Puthur, former Principal Scientist of ICAR R S Lalmohan, retired Director of Geological Survey of India K Gopalakrishnan, Economist Jacob John and environmentalist M Arunachalam.

The experts and scientists also said the project was needlessly mired into religious controversy and added it has to be examined more on rational grounds.

UNI

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