HAMBURG, West Germany — The 155 Tamil refugees who were set adrift in two open boats off the Newfoundland coast came from West Germany and not from India as they had claimed in what was part of a smuggling ring masterminded by two Sri Lankans, authorities said Friday.
West German police said the two ringleaders were under arrest and confessed that they had the Tamils ferried across the Atlantic in a German-owned, Honduras-registered tramp freighter after charging the Tamils $2,500 each. The fees were paid partly in cash, partly in jewelry and valuables, police said.
Police raided a ship brokerage bureau in Hamburg and also detained a Turk in connection with the affair, police said.
According to Hamburg Police Chief Dieter Heering, the refugees, who had fled Sri Lanka, lied when they claimed they left Madras, India, July 6.
He told a news conference here they actually slipped out of the small Weser River port of Brake, 25 miles northwest of Bremen, at dawn on July 28 aboard the 425-ton motor vessel Aurigae.
Whereabouts of Ship Unknown
The 45-year-old German captain and owner of the Aurigae, identified as Wolfgang Bindel, was believed to have received $340,000 for the clandestine operation. Heering said Canada was expected to issue an international warrant for the arrest of Bindel. The whereabouts of the Aurigae and its captain are unknown, Heering added.
Heering confirmed reports that the Aurigal's owners recently bought three second-hand lifeboats from a ship named the Regina Maris, a name still legible on the two boats in which the 155 Tamils were found Monday by Canadian fishing vessels despite obvious efforts to erase it.
The number of Tamils was originally given as 152.
Heering said that during the probe police were told that a group of Tamils was holding a Sri Lankan hostage in Bremerhaven because he had pocketed the fees of at least 38 Tamils who never got aboard the Aurigae and were left behind.
A Hamburg shipping source Friday quoted a relative of one of the smuggled Tamils as saying the captain and three untrained Sri Lankan seamen threatened the Tamils on board with reprisals against friends if they exposed the operation.
The group had been assembled from points all over West Germany and taken in minibuses to the port of Brake.
Asylum Sought in W. Germany
More than 37,000 Sri Lankans have sought political asylum in West Germany since 1980.
Sri Lanka has been wracked by civil conflict since 1983, with Tamil extremists seeking independence for the Jaffna region in the north because of alleged Sinhalese discrimination and repression.
The shipping source said the voyage was apparently intended as the first of a profitable refugee pipeline to Canada, a favorite destination for Tamils who say they are fleeing ethnic violence at home.
Canada's consul general in Hamburg, Dennis Baker, told the news conference his office had received an anonymous tip on July 25 about the imminent departure of a ship with a large group of Tamils aboard.
"We informed Hamburg police immediately who in turn started questioning Tamil refugees in the area", he said.
It was the first indication that Canada had prior knowledge of a possible refugee-smuggling operation.
In Canada, Inspector Jack Lavers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said he accepted the Hamburg police report, and that it cleared up many questions surrounding the refugees.
"It explains the fact they had German money, an address book, their clothing, the condition of the people, the fact that they were dry. . . ," the inspector said in a telephone interview from St. John's, Newfoundland.
The Tamils, issued temporary Canadian residence permits, have now joined Tamil refugee communities in Toronto and Montreal.
The decision to allow the Tamils to stay touched off complaints. Member of Parliament Howard Crosby of Nova Scotia said his telephone was "ringing off the hook" with complaints.
"People see two laws at work here. One is for those who choose the legal channels and face all kinds of considerations and considerable time delays. And the other is for these situations where it is all so automatic and quick," Crosby said.