A floating platform of firepower | Daily News
Sri Lanka Navy’s Fast Missile Vessels:

A floating platform of firepower

SLNS Suranimala
SLNS Suranimala

The vast ocean surrounding our island is consistently patrolled by various craft of the Navy. Each vessel and crew has been assigned their role and task, with specialized officers and sailors. It was a privilege to experience two of these vessels, namely SLNS Nandimithra (P-701) and SLNS Suranimala (P-702). Both these vessels have rendered a significant service over the past two decades. Designed and built in Israel, they were commissioned into active duty in the Sri Lanka Navy in December 2000. They are empowered with missile-carrying capability. Both these Fast Missile Vessels (FMV) can accurately deliver sea skimming anti-ship missiles.

Gallantly cruising the ocean at a speed of 28 knots SLNS Nandimithra is a floating platform of firepower with an array of guns. I was able to board this magnificent vessel and witness the disciplined teamwork of her able crew. This missile boat is commanded by Captain K.N.D. Walpola. We proceed to the wardroom after walking through a hatch. The wardroom is the place where officers have their meals, and relax after duty.

As I looked out the porthole, the turquoise waters of the ocean reminded me that sailing is a special profession. SLNS Nandimithra has a battle history laden with many accomplishments at sea according to her Commanding Officer. Today the vessel goes out on independent maritime patrols that usually last about five to seven days. The crew maintains an alert watch to thwart non-traditional threats and stop human smuggling, drug trafficking and piracy. The FMV is smaller in size compared to an OPV (offshore patrol vessel) in the naval fleet. It has a confined but practical working space and the men live and work as a strongly knit team that understands each other. The vessel has a length of 58 metres and a breadth of 7.62 metres with a displacement of 445 tons. An officer showed me a cabin: it has space for a bed, washroom and writing desk.

On a vessel designed for specialized combat weapons delivery there is no room for fancy living. The cabins of all the officers are the same. At sea the sailors maintain a high morale and face every situation thrust upon them. Not everyone is capable of handling these conditions at sea. This is what makes the crew of a Fast Missile Vessel unique, their working routine is one of sacrifice. Her sister vessel SLNS Suranimala also has the same design and capacity. The men proudly represent the following naval branches: engineering, navigation, administration, supply and logistics, electronic warfare and weapons.

The sunlight bounced off the waves on this beautiful morning, as we walked along narrow corridors and I got the feeling of being in a combat action movie. Sailors were moving back and forth, as the quartermasters’ pipe made shrill whistles rising above the noise of the engine. The FMV is powered by four MTU 16 engines, which propel the vessel to top speed to confront enemy ships or engage hostile targets. On both vessels, her gunnery officers have an important duty. As we walked on Deck Level, I realized the firepower at the disposal of this sleek vessel, which cruised with power. SLNS Nandimithra is armed with a heavy calibre 76 mm gun, 40 mm gun and 14.5 mm guns in addition to other advanced weapons systems. The 76 mm gun is a display of naval engineering. It can rapidly take in 40 shells via an ammo feeder (loaded manually by sailors) and delivers a devastating hit that can decimate any target. Aided by optical directors the vessel enhances its visual and target acquisition by a 360 degree spectrum, giving the Captain a better scope when engaging the enemy. Radar plotting is another vital duty performed on deck, and this charts the voyage.

An officer added, “At sea we constantly engage in various drills, search and rescue, man overboard drill, fire fighting, etc., to keep our men primed and ready.” Maintaining such a high-tech vessel is a challenge and an honour. Every night the Executive Officer walks around the entire vessel inspecting each compartment, to ensure all is well. Every naval vessel has her routine. By 6.00 am all crew wake up (not to forget that one shift has been on night watch). They muster at 6.15 am and then proceed to shower and eat breakfast. The crew cabins displayed bunk beds suspended at various angles: again not everyone can get used to sleeping in this manner. After this we indulged in a tea break.

On most naval vessel lunch is served at 11.30 am and dinner is served to the crew by 6.30 pm. The energetic sailors have free time to chat and watch TV or read a book. The duty officer ensures that its lights out at 9.15 pm.

The Master at Arms is the man who maintains discipline of all sailors on these vessels. He also acts like a father to junior sailors on their first voyage and mentors them. Sailing is an adventure and there maybe a few mild injuries now and then and sailors have access to first aid at a first aid station.

As they engage in patrols the crews have witnessed dolphins and whales, dominating the marine domain which is an absolute delight to any nature lover.

During the years of conflict both these vessels made their aggressive interceptions and combat engagements at sea, inflicting losses on the enemy. The Sri Lanka Navy has its own traditions at sea loaded with pomp and decorum, coming down from the British Admiralty. I was able to witness one such naval tradition: a farewell tea party on deck for some of the crew leaving the vessel, on completing their tour of duty. A senior sailor made a moving speech, thanking his comrades. The snacks made in the galley (kitchen) were tasty and enriched the aura of fellowship. Cooking on board a cruising vessel is a skill: as the ship will ‘pitch and roll’ with the waves. SLNS Suranimala (P-702) is commanded by Captain S.P. Kathriarachchi and has a sailing complement of 85 crew, including 11officers. As we neared the jetty, I heard the quartermaster’s pipe, once more. The sunset dominated the sky. The men dedicatedly serving onboard SLNS Nandimithra and SLNS Suranimala are a special clan of naval warriors. It was an honour to be among them and observe their sailing routines and dignified traditions.