The Sea Tigers are believed to have successfully withdrawn following the recent attack on the merchant vessel `City of Liverpool` after deceiving the military into believing that they had taken several persons hostage.
The Island learns that immediately after the attack Sea Tigers had radioed a message to their headquarters claiming that they managed to take the crew and a squad of navy personnel deployed onboard the stricken vessel. The military had intercepted the message.
The military had ceased firing on the cluster of boats which moved safely backed to Vettilaikerni. `We simply did not want to take a chance,` a well informed source said. After consulting higher authorities, the military had called off the attack on the enemy craft. Before the Sea Tigers transmitted the misleading message, the land based artillery-152mm and 130mm had zeroed in on two Sea Tiger craft. Shore-based artillery had been deployed during engagements between the Navy and Sea Tigers on a number of previous occasions.
The army had also directed multi barrel rocket fire at the attacking boats. `We fired about 40 rounds at them,` the source said. According to him, the armoured fighting vehicles too had been deployed to provide gunfire support to Fast Attack Craft (FACs) engaged in the action.
At the time the navy detected the movement of two clusters of enemy craft from Vettilaikerni at 3.00 pm on January 21 one FAC had been deployed a little distance away from the targeted vessel. Three other FACs had moved out from Kankesanthurai. The City of Liverpool carrying a stock of urgently needed supplies for civilians in the Jaffna Peninsula had been anchored off Point Pedro.
The two clusters had been comprised of about 15 to 20 craft including five explosives-laden speed craft.
Despite a series of air strikes directed at identified Sea Tiger bases over the past several months, they continue to pose a severe threat on ship movements, particularly on the east coast. The military top brass are exploring ways and means of neutralizing the Sea Tiger threat. One of the critical issues they had to address urgently is the need to bolster the Navy`s firepower. The military said that the need to replace the existing 23mm cannon with 30 mm cannon was of pivotal importance. A project launched in 2002 to upgrade the firepower of FAC is yet to materialise.