Cruising on the waves of victory | Daily News

Cruising on the waves of victory

Sri Lanka Navy ready to celebrate its 70th anniversary:

The Sri Lanka Navy is set to celebrate its 70th anniversary on December 9. Being an island nation the security of our sea areas makes the Navy our formidable first line of defence. Sri Lanka is blessed to be strategically located in the Indian Ocean Region.

Today we are at a juncture where extra regional countries desire to have some presence in the Indian Ocean Region. Hence the projection of our sea power in a geopolitical context sustains our territorial integrity as a nation. The ocean becomes a medium for information, transportation and domination. The Navy has made consistent progress over the past seven decades. Let us look back at the significant milestones that transformed the Navy from a ceremonial outfit to a deep sea capacity battle experienced fleet.

The Ceylon Naval Volunteer Force (CNVF) was established in 1937. At the end of the Second World War, this formation was duly absorbed into the Royal Navy as the Ceylon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (CRNVR). In 1938, the first officers were commissioned, including two Ceylonese officers. Subsequently, an intake consisting of British and Ceylonese were trained as signalman gunners. Sailors were also trained for general duties (lascar) and stoker mechanics to maintain engine rooms. Commander W.G. Beauchamp was appointed to be in charge.

In August 1939, the CNVF was duly mobilized for war duties. In the early days, the sailors navigated the sea on two tugs named Samson and Goliath (belonging to the Ports Commission) before sailing on converted Antarctic whalers that served as minesweepers. The Overdale Wyke was the first ship to be purchased by the Government of Ceylon. Augmented by a small fleet of auxiliary vessels, the Navy was tasked with guarding the approach ways to the harbour. The Navy Headquarters was allocated the area in Colombo and they duly built a Wardroom for officers at Flagstaff Street.

During this time, two important bases were garnered by the Navy. One was located in the salubrious green hills of Diyatalawa, which was the training base commissioned as HMCyS Rangalla. The other was the massive base in Trincomalee known as HMS Highflyer. Records indicate that there were many Members of Parliament who travelled by a special train to Trincomalee for this important handing over ceremony. In keeping with naval tradition, the Royal Navy ensign was struck and the Royal Ceylon Navy ensign was hoisted. In 1949, an Algerine Class minesweeper was given to Ceylon and named HMCyS Vijaya. With extended maritime reach, the Navy now embarked on anti-smuggling and anti-illicit immigration patrols at sea. On December 9, 1950, the Navy Act was passed and the Royal Ceylon Navy was formed. In 1972, the Navy was renamed as the Sri Lanka Navy.

The fleet had to grow in speed and firepower. The first such Fast Gun Boats (Shanghai Class FGB) were given by the People's Republic of China. These two boats were named SLNS Weeraya and SLNS Sooraya. By 1980, the Navy added five more of these Fast Gun Boats. Subsequently, the SLNS Samudra Devi was received as a gift from the USSR. The fleet was further strengthened with the Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV), SLNS Jayasagara and SLNS Sagarawardena, proudly built in Sri Lanka by Colombo Dockyard.

The Sri Lanka Navy made steady progress on land as well. In the 1980s, a ground defence force was formed. This unit focused on protecting naval bases across the island. As the threat of LTTE attacks grew over the years this naval ground combat force fought alongside the Army. In 2017, this land combat force made a successful transformation as the Sri Lanka Navy Marine Battalion, a fully-fledged amphibious force that also specializes in urban combat operations. In the 1980s, another special combat team was formed on the lines of the British Navy’s Special Forces.

Since then the Special Boat Squadron (SBS) of the Sri Lanka Navy has matured into a battle hardened force that makes an immense contribution in combat operations. The SBS is tasked with beach reconnaissance; clandestine operations, combat diving and anti-ship hijack rescue missions. They are experts in VBSS - the art of boarding a moving ship at sea from a small boat with stealth and speed.

In 1990, the Navy engaged in its first amphibious operation named “Sea Breeze”. As the threat of terrorism swept towards the sea, the Navy had to step up its combat capability. As the designated authority to implement the ISPS Code in Sri Lanka (International Ships and Port Facility Security), the Sri Lanka Navy was bound to protect all harbours and our EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) at sea. Inshore Patrol Crafts (IPC) were deployed for these duties and the introduction of Fast Attack Craft (FAC) upgraded the speed and firepower of the Navy to wield its supremacy in the oceans domain. The vital harbours in Colombo, Trincomalee, Karainagar and Kankesanthurai (KKS) were duly guarded. The Fast Attack Craft were initially deployed in the 1980s. Over the years the FAC Squadron based in Trincomalee rendered a great service to terminate the dangerous threats at sea and changed the tide of asymmetric warfare. The squadron grew into the 4th Fast Attack Flotilla (4FAF) and was bestowed with the President’s Colours for its exceptional battle service. Today the flotilla includes Super Dvora class attack vessels.

The Rapid Action Boats Squadron (RABS) was introduced to thwart the LTTE’s swarm tactics using small suicide boats. The RABS force element used IPCs and Arrow boats in support of littoral and amphibious operations. This changed the battle outcome in favour of the Navy. Subsequently, the need for trained naval crews to respond to natural water-related hazards and disasters was identified. These rescue teams were formed as the 4R Unit (Rapid Response Rescue & Relief).

As the Navy jubilantly enters 70 years of service, this island nation looks back with gratitude at all the great “men in whites” who steered the Navy. They are Captain W.E. Banks, Captain J.R.S. Brown, Commodore P.M.B. Chavasse, Rear Admiral G.R.M. de Mel, Rear Admiral R. Kadiragamar, Rear Admiral D.V. Hunter, Rear Admiral D.B. Goonesekera, Rear Admiral A.W.H. Perera, Vice Admiral A.H.A de Silva, Admiral H.A. Silva, Admiral W.W.EC. Fernando, Admiral D.A.M.R. Samarasekera, Admiral H.C.A. Thisera, Admiral D.W.K. Sandagiri, Admiral of the Fleet W.K.J. Karannagoda, Admiral T.S.G. Samarasinghe, Admiral D.W.A.S. Dissanayake, Admiral J.S.K. Colombage (incumbent Foreign Secretary), Admiral S.A.M.J. Perera, Admiral R.C. Wijegunaratne, Admiral T.J.L. Sinniah, Admiral S.S. Ranasinghe and Admiral K.V.P.H de Silva. The incumbent Navy Commander is Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne.

During the past few years, I have been privileged to go onboard some of the Offshore Patrol Vessels and Advanced OPVs. They include SLNS Sagara, SLNS Sayura, SLNS Sindurala, SLNS Parakramabahu (donated by China) and SLNS Gajabahu (handed over by America). The journey from Hawaii to Colombo lasting 40 days by SLNS Gajabahu is the longest sea passage of the Sri Lanka Navy where they crossed the International Date Line (IDL). Life at sea is interesting as the officers and sailors live and work as a close team.

The modern AOPVs have state of the art weapons systems supplemented by modern radar and navigation systems. The major vessels in the fleet take part in local and regional training exercises to augment the inter-operability of forces concept.

In the past two years, the Sri Lanka Navy vessels have engaged in deep sea surveillance and apprehended large consignments of dangerous narcotics, which garnered the appreciation of the public. Naval life is not only at sea, as the Navy has grown in all its shore-based establishments.

The Naval and Maritime Academy in Trincomalee has completed 50 years and continues to groom officer cadets. As part of its community obligation, the Sri Lanka Navy has given hundreds of reverse osmosis plants (that purify drinking water) to help many rural villages. The sailors have engaged in turtle conservation and protecting the marine environment.

The Navy operates a kennels division using many dog breeds for active guard and tracking duty. Sailors have excelled in various sports at local and international level. Setting up the first underwater museum on the island is another achievement. The Sri Lanka Navy will continue to be the first line of defence as we move forward towards vistas of prosperity.