Police confirm Sri Lankan migrant died during voyage from Thailand to B.C.

Posted by admin on Aug 15th, 2010

The Province, August 15, 2010

Update: RCMP have confirmed that a 37-year-old Sri Lankan man died of an illness on the MV Sun Sea during its three-month voyage from Thailand to B.C. Investigators have determined that the man died about three weeks ago while the migrant ship was in international waters. He was buried at sea and there is no indication of foul play.

Earlier: VICTORIA — A day after Canadian officials said the migrants who travelled from Thailand to British Columbia aboard a cargo ship had arrived in surprisingly good health, a report has surfaced that one man may have died during the journey.

The Canadian Tamil Congress alleged Sunday that a man in his 30s died during the trip onboard the MV Sun Sea —_a report Canadian authorities would not immediately confirm.

The congress said some of the migrants told them the man was buried at sea just two weeks before the ship arrived in Esquimalt Harbour, near Victoria.

Sarujan Kanapathipillai, a spokesman for the group, said lawyers and other members have spoken with 35 women who have been detained by Canadian authorities pending their processing, and learned that the man died on July 28.

Kanapathipillai said it’s not clear how he died.

“Coming on the boat, he was in good health,” he said. “Somewhere along the line, something must have gone wrong.”

Kanapathipillai said the man is survived by his wife and child, who are in Sri Lanka.

“In a boat like that, if you’re in it for three or four months, you start forming a lot of personal relationships,” he said. “It’s very challenging for a lot of people to cope with the death. We are worried about the mental state of these children, having witnessed someone dying on a boat or going missing.”

But, he said, the migrants realized they were in for a long, tumultuous journey when they decided to make the trip.

“They took that risk because of the deplorable conditions in Sri Lanka and what they were trying to run away from,” he said.

The Canada Border Service Agency would not comment on the report, referring calls to the RCMP. The police force did not immediately respond to requests for information.

The women the members of the congress spoke to are among nearly 500 migrants who arrived in Esquimalt Harbour on the 59-metre long Sun Sea early Friday morning.

Kanapathipillai said the women are “very happy” to be in Canada.

“The officials they have dealt with, from what we have heard, have been very helpful and supportive,” he said.

“One of the things that is holding them together is the relationships they formed on the boat,” said Kanapathipillai.

Support for the women has also come from other ethnic communities across Canada, including First Nations, Chinese and Sikhs.

“We have told them how many people are calling and how many people are excited that they are here, they have been very happy to hear that.”

Despite earlier concerns of a tuberculosis outbreak, health officials said this weekend they have found no indication of communicable diseases among the group.

Nausea, and dehydration were the most common complaints, officials said.

Officials have also said that while the ship was extremely cramped with its human cargo, it was clean and well-organized.

Only 27 of the migrants were taken to the emergency room at Victoria General Hospital, said Richard Crow, chief medical officer for the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

Of those, only six — four women and two children — were admitted to hospital, including two pregnant women, but none have serious conditions and they were expected to be released soon.

Detention hearings for the migrants are slated to begin Monday, during which immigration officials will determine whether to release the migrants or keep them in custody.

If released, the migrants can file refugee claims to stay in Canada.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has said Canadian authorities suspect Sri Lankan members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers — a group branded a terrorist organization by the Canadian government and banned from entering the country — were aboard the ship.

Human-smuggling was one way the Tamil Tigers funded their 25-year war with the Sri Lankan government, a conflict that claimed tens of thousands of lives. The Tigers were crushed in a final May 2009 assault amid accusations of war crimes on both sides.

The RCMP have said they are continuing to investigate the migrants for security threats or criminal pasts.

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