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Smugglers may have made more than $20 m from Migrant ship

The human smugglers behind the MV Sun Sea may have pocketed more than $20-million for ferrying a shipload of Sri Lankan migrants to British Columbia coast last week.

The passengers each paid $40,000 to $50,000 for the three-month journey from Thailand, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told the National Post in an interview.

He said his officials had advised him the Tigers rebel organization was behind the operation, which he said was driven by profit motives.

While he said he did not know whether children or families got discounts, he said that considering a ship like the Sun Sea costs about $1-million, the profit margin was significant.

The smugglers had refitted the 59-metre cargo ship to maximize their profits, he said. “All I can say is that the debriefing that I received was that it is clear that this is the product of the efforts of an organized criminal enterprise.

“In fact, the Sun Sea itself was modified in order to make this trip and maximize the number of persons and the resulting profits. For example, he said a sanitation system had been installed to accommodate a large number of people for a lengthy voyage.

He said this was not a case of “people jumping on the first cargo ship that happened to come by.” Rather, it was a deliberate attempt to make money by cramming as many people as possible onto a small ship, he said.

Asked who was behind it, he said, “The evidence presented to me suggests that its elements of the Tigers or LTTE.”

The minister said there was no truth to reports the ship had originally intended to travel to Australia but had changed course after Canberra made it clear they were not welcome.

He said the ship’s destination was always Canada. He also confirmed the ship had sailed from the relative safety of Thailand, not Sri Lanka.

At a media briefing Saturday, Canadian officials said the migrants were generally in good shape. None had any communicable diseases.

“Due to the size of the vessel and number on board there were extremely cramped quarters,” said Rob Johnston, a CBSA official. “Having said that, the vessel was in much better shape than expected.

“It was relatively clean and organized. A system had been developed to dispose of waste and garbage. There were sleeping quarters on board with hammocks. On arrival, it appeared the men and the women and the children were housed in separate areas on board.”

- National Post

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