Floating Armory Caught In Scandal

File photo

Published Nov 5, 2015 7:12 PM by The Maritime Executive

Sri Lankan security firm Avant Garde Maritime Services (AGMS) has become embroiled in scandal as two of its floating armory vessels remain under arrest.

The armory vessel Avant Garde was arrested in the port of Galle in October. AGMS officials say they received permission from the Ministry of Defence for the vessel to enter the port, but upon arrival, Sri Lankan Navy officials boarded the ship and placed it under government control. The company described the Navy's actions as a “downright betrayal.”

Sri Lankan authorities found 816 T56 (an AK-47 variant) and 84 S type firearms on board the ship, along with about 200,000 rounds of ammunition. The vessel was allegedly licensed to carry no more than 100 arms. Additionally, reports indicate that at least 59 of the guns found had no legible serial numbers. According to statements of crew aboard the Avant Garde, the weapons were intended for transfer to the commercial security firm Rakna Lanka Limited.

On November 5, Rakna Lanka's representatives, along with several senior defense officals, were called to testify before a presidential commission on fraud. The commission is examining the firm's finances and arms transactions. 

Opposition members of parliament claim that the current government is doing too little in its investigation in order to shield AGMS and others from corruption charges.

The arms transfer appears to confirm industry observers' concerns that arms stored aboard floating armories could be sold off under murky circumstances. As piracy is declining in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, demand for maritime security services is on the wane, and it is expected that many security companies’ assets will be liquidated. 

The Avant Garde is not the only AGMS vessel under investigation. The armory ship Mahanuwara was boarded by Sri Lankan police early in 2015; they found 3000 unregistered firearms aboard. A court ruling on October 22 paved the way for a full investigation of the Mahanuwara to begin.

Prior to arrival in Galle, the Avant Garde was stationed in the Red Sea. It is one of three armory vessels owned by AGMS.