A human-smuggling operation was aiming to bring hundreds of individuals to the B.C. coast. The smugglers mentioned that an exclusive cruise liner would be taking them to Canada comfortably. However, the MV Lady 3 could not meet these lofty expectations.
The Myanmar-flagged vessel was hardly seaworthy. It lacked sleeping quarters and had only two toilets for about 303 Tamil men, children, and women on board. Food was also scant — thin rice or porridge, infested with numerous bugs. The drinking water was orange in color, like that of the flaking hull.
Credit: CBC News: The National
In 30 days at sea last fall, the vessel could only cover 3,500 kilometres — about one-fifth of the distance from Myanmar to the coast of British Columbia.
The engine would be breaking down frequently. When the vessel’s pumps in the hold could no more cope with water streaming via the growing holes and cracks, the crew members called in yet another boat and managed to flee from Lady 3 in the night.
Karunatharan Mathushan, one of the prospective asylum seekers, said that they left the remaining individuals in the middle of the ocean.
The hundreds of people who were left behind were compelled to fight for themselves. Some went down into the belly to bail, and some others kept standing on deck, lighting shirts on fire to grab the attention of passing vessels.
Hours later, on 10 November, a Japanese freighter vessel reportedly pulled alongside and managed to take everyone aboard. It was after this that the Tamil migrants were transferred to a vessel that belonged to the Vietnamese Coast Guard and then sent to refugee camps in the city of Vuñg Tàu (southern Vietnam).
In the following months, over half of the passengers elected to return or be deported to Sri Lanka. A 37-year-old Tamil person, a father of four, committed suicide at a camp.
The other migrants continue holding out hope of finding a new home either in Canada or elsewhere.
Failed operation cashed in on the desperation.
Through interviews that were conducted concerning the case in Vietnam and Sri Lanka, CBC News has put together a story of the Lady 3 and the vessel’s human cargo — a failed smuggling mission that was cashing in on the desperation of several dozens of families wanting to flee economic turmoil and political repression.
A major selling point for many migrants was the smugglers’ claims of their past success. They said that they belonged to the same organization behind Ocean Lady and MV Sun Sea — the vessels that brought over 550 asylum seekers in 2009 and 2010 to the shores of Vancouver Island.
Human smuggling was established as a globalized ships trade
The Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration associated with Toronto Metropolitan University, Anna Triandafyllidou, said that Canadians must not be surprised by the lengths to which individuals are desperate to reach the country’s shores.
Triandafyllidou added that Lady 3’s voyage is a reminder that operations on people smuggling are as globalized as commercial trade is — covering huge distances if the demands exist and the price is appropriate.
CBC News inquired Sean Fraser, the minister of immigration, refugees, and citizenship, if authorities of the federal government had been tracking Lady 3’s progress in the fall of 2022.
Sean Fraser’s department indicated that it was not aware the vessel had set sail for Canada until the last week — when CBC News passed on international media reports and comments from relevant Sri Lankan officials.
Unforgettable scenarios on the boats
Those who were on the MV Sun Sea and Ocean Lady were not greeted with open arms when they reached Canada back in 2009 and 2010. The individuals were taken to the Royal Canadian Navy base in Esquimalt, B.C., photographed, fingerprinted, and detained for end-to-end background checks.
The Conservative government at that time expressed several concerns that some of the asylum seekers may also have ties to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a military organization that was outlawed in Canada as a terrorist bracket in 2006.
However, in the end, two-thirds of those aboard the two vessels — 378 of 578 migrants — were finally accepted as refugees by Canada. Those who were on the ships mentioned how they could barely sit. When they slept, they slept side by side in lines. They struggled and were extremely scared.
Reference: CBC, One News Page