Swiss firefighting equipment held by Lanka customs

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 15 March 2005, 14:28 GMT]
Sri Lanka Customs on recommendation from Sri Lanka security forces have refused to release a container with fire fighting equipment sent to the Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) from Switzerland, officials of TRO said. In a press release issued from Colombo Tuesday, TRO officials added that the equipments are neither banned nor illegal to import, and are intended for use during emergencies in refugee camps.

TRO is an NGO registered with the Government of Sri Lanka and works exclusively in the NorthEast of Sri Lanka.

Full text of the press release follows:

Fire Fighting Equipment Detained by Sri Lankan Armed Forces

The extended delays by Government of Sri Lankan (GoSL) officials in clearing shipping containers consigned to the Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) is a serious problem that continues unabated 2 months after the Tsunami. The most recent incident is the delay and “transfer” of a container with fire fighting equipment by the S.L. Customs and the S.L. Armed Forces.

Sri Lanka Customs, at the instruction of Navy and Air Force officials, has refused to release a shipping container full of donated fire fighting equipment from Switzerland. This is yet another instance of government officials throwing up roadblocks in order to harass and delay the clearance of Tsunami relief items donated to the TRO and destined for the NorthEast.

As a result of the Tsunami many displaced persons have been housed in temporary shelters, some of which are made from flammable materials such as tents and cadjans (a highly flammable natural roofing/siding material). In order to provide the highest level of care possible to these displaced persons TRO secured the services of volunteers from the ranks of the refugees to respond to any and all emergences. There is no existing fire fighting equipment or trained personnel in the NorthEast.

On March 7, 2005 TRO was advised by the Deputy Director of Customs that an expert opinion was sought from the Harbor Master concerning the fire fighting equipment and its usage. It was determined that the equipment was indeed fire fighting equipment and with no military or illegal purpose and should be allowed into the country. As a result the documents for the goods were handed over to the clearing agents and the clearing process began.

This process was halted by the Navy and Air Force Officials who came to “inspect” the container. The result of their “inspection” was that the container was transferred to the Customs’ “Fort Preventative” premises for “further investigation”.

TRO requests that the government’s authorities to intervene with the SL Armed Forces as the equipment is not listed as being banned or illegal to import. The goods only serve a humanitarian purpose and as such should be released immediately so that they are available should an emergency situation arise in one of the camps. Further any deaths and/or destruction resulting from a lack of fire fighting equipment in the NorthEast would be too gruesome to contemplate.

For further information please contact:
Lal Gunawardena
Information Officer
Phone: +94 (0) 11 269 3254
+94 (0) 11 471 6575

 

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