KOH SIRAE, PHUKET: Gazette staff today located and photographed the mini-submarine that has been at the center of a controversy over the presence of Tamil rebel operations in Phuket. But so far, the discovery of the mini-sub raises more questions than it answers. The part-finished sub is about five meters long and is large enough to hold two, perhaps three people. According to a Thai co-owner of the shipyard, the sub was delivered from Bangkok about five years ago. No work has been done on it since then. “The sub is still in the same condition as when it came down from Bangkok. I’ve never seen anyone touching it,” he told Gazette reporters. He said that the vessel was consigned to Christy Reginald Lawrence, also a co-owner of the yard. There are a number of shareholders in the shipyard, but of these only three are active in the running of the yard, the co-owner said. One is himself. Another is Mr Lawrence, a Tamil who holds a Norwegian passport. “The third is an American man whom I’ve never seen. I don’t even know his name. Actually, the whole yard was run and pretty much owned by Christy. I know only a little about the company,” said the co-owner. He added that Mr Lawrence, who has been alleged to be a member of the Sri Lankan rebel group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), has been in Phuket for the entire six-year history of the yard. He also said that he has never seen Mr Lawrence handling any firearms. However, he added, “There are some other things that might support claims [that Mr Lawrence is a member of the LTTE]. There are some things I saw that were a bit strange, like some documents that were seized, but I did not ask him about them.” Asked why he knew so little, the co-owner said, “On paper, I have a big share. But in reality I have only a small part. So there are some things I would rather not know and better not tell.” In April, Mr Lawrence was arrested by the Marine Police on smuggling charges after they investigated his 17-meter, four-engine speedboat and found 5,000 liters of fuel, military uniforms, propaganda materials for the LTTE, and sonar and communications equipment on board. Mr Lawrence was released on bail and, according to the co-owner, is still living in Phuket with his girlfriend. The shipyard, meanwhile, has been closed until the investigations are complete. Yesterday, when approached by the Gazette, the Superintendent of the Phuket Marine Police denied the existence of the submarine. They have also denied that the LTTE have made Racha Yai Island, 15 km from the southwest coast of Phuket, the new hub of their Southeast Asia gun-running and fund-raising activities. Attempts by the Gazette to contact Mr Lawrence have so far been unsuccessful.
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