Dominating the ocean’s frontier | Daily News
SLNS Sayura:

Dominating the ocean’s frontier

Amidst a mild wind and rain I made my entry into the harbour to go onboard one of the Offshore Patrol Vessels of the Sri Lanka Navy. Our vehicle turned alongside the pier and I could make out the impressive form of SLNS Sayura (P-620). This vessel had a distinct feature which caught my attention – she was fitted with twin masts. As we boarded the gangway the guard commander on duty greeted me. A brass bell was suspended on an iron bracket, and the sunlight bounced off its shining surface. After climbing a flight of steps we entered the wardroom (officer’s mess) where a few officers were having a discussion. The duty Petty Officer made them aware of my presence and coffee was served, and the officers introduced themselves.

Minutes later we took another flight of steps. The iron steps on a naval vessel require focus when climbing and descending, especially when the vessel is moving. Captain Buddika Rupasinghe is the dynamic Commanding Officer of SLNS Sayura. The vessel was commissioned on December 9, 2000. She was built in India and belongs to the Sukanya Class patrol vessels. Her current home port is Colombo.

The formidable vessel has a displacement of 1,890 tons and a cruising speed of 22 knots. This Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) is powered by two diesel engines which generate her propulsion. SLNS Sayura has a sea endurance (the ability to operate at deep sea for patrolling) for upto 20 days. The sturdy vessel has a length of 101 metres and a beam of 11.5 metres. The experienced Captain commands a crew of 15 officers and 154 sailors. At times naval cadets are taken onboard for on-the-job training, which gives them a firsthand view of life at sea.

The officers and sailors cherish their service on board this vessel. It was indeed an honour to be onboard this magnificent vessel which has earned many battle honours. SLNS Sayura is credited with identifying and engaging LTTE vessels that were smuggling arms. This naval OPV has directly engaged and sunk some of these enemy vessels. The officers working onboard represent engineering, electrical, gunnery, signals and communication, navigation and logistics branches. The Executive Officer is the second in command on all naval vessels.

I began to discover the operations of this vessel with a visit to the bridge. This area is the command hub of SLNS Sayura and has two key functions that support the Captain. The branches are Navigation and Communication. These two sections must function in timely unison for SLNS Sayura to sail and achieve her given orders, which are part of the larger national security objectives of Sri Lanka. The bridge is always manned by day and night. The officers kindly explained about the radars and GPS systems on board.

We climbed to deck number 5 known as ‘bridge top’. From here one can see and observe the blue ocean with a 360 degree view. The bridge top is used for forward observation. From here I could look down and see the next level which is the forecastle, where the ships main 37 mm gun is positioned on a rotating turret. This area also has the three heavy anchors. Sailors clad in blue navy shorts were busy scrubbing and mopping this area. Being exposed to salty wind all the deck areas require daily cleaning.

Some birds were hovering about. We entered the bridge again and moved into the chart room another vital area, where specialized radar plotters under the watch of a Petty Officer were engaged in some calculations. The officer monitors the weather forecast and updated the Navigation officer. SLNS Sayura bears naval pennant number P-620. One of the important platforms on the bridge is the red ‘action stations’ alarm which puts the entire crew for battle readiness.

The vessel also uses an assortment of flags that relay words and numerals; this is a naval tradition across the world. On this voyage the vessel carried a detachment of elite SBS troops (Special Boat Squadron). The Executive Officer (XO) invited me to walk to the heli-deck. SLNS Sayura has the capacity to land a helicopter and thereby enhance her operational capability. I encountered some young naval cadets listening to a practical lecture on gunnery. On seeing the XO they stood to attention and saluted. When not on duty the sailors can play badminton and volleyball on the heli-deck even when the vessel is cruising at deep sea. A compact gym onboard keeps everyone fit. We proceeded to the lower deck where the engine room operates. Naval personnel clad in blue overalls were checking an array of displays.

This is the soul of SLNS Sayura which generates all the power needed for sailing. The size of the two engines was impressive. Routine maintenance is mandatory onboard. Empowered with this mega propulsion SLNS Sayura deploys into the deep sea for patrol and surveillance of our EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) and also engages in anti-narcotics and anti-smuggling operations. She also monitors IUU (Illegal Unreported and Unregulated fishing).

I was introduced to a Lieutenant Commander who was in charge of another key branch on board. He is the Gunnery officer of this Offshore Patrol Vessel. This naval team plays a crucial role as they operate and fire the guns when engaging an enemy at deep sea. The men have to maintain the ship’s 37 mm cannon along with another array of mounted guns, magazine stores, ordinance and the gun wharf which houses ballistic helmets and body armour. The latter is taken out rapidly when the action stations alarm is sounded.

The 37mm gun has a maximum range of 8,500 metres and also doubles as an anti-aircraft gun. I climbed the gun turret. Inside an operator used a foot pedal to rotate the heavy gun. I can only imagine the devastating firepower of this gun during live action. By 13:00 hours we adjourned for lunch. The naval cooks had prepared a delicious rice and curry meal. The cooks who rotate as a four-man team prepare food for almost 200 men, whilst at sea or shore. They must cook during turbulent seas, when the vessel would pitch and roll. But this is part of life at sea. The cooks begin their day at 3.30 am and serve breakfast at 6am.

The Logistics officer onboard SLNS Sayura plans, stores and carefully sustains the nourishment of the entire crew. A Lieutenant does the ships procurement and stores. SLNS Sayura must carry all her fresh and dry rations to cover her designated sea patrol and for a few extra days in case of any emergency.

Using modern technology sea water is turned into drinking water using a Reverse Osmosis plant onboard. This is very fascinating in terms of naval innovation. The vessel also has a sick bay with trained medics on duty. Discipline of the crew onboard this formidable vessel is maintained by the Master-at- Arms, who holds the ranks of a MCPO (Master Chief Petty Officer). The crew has comfortable accommodation, sleeping on bunk beds. During my visit on board I heard the shrill whistle of the boson’s pipe sending out messages, which I had now become accustomed to having been on many naval ships. The pipe is blown by a Quarter Master. The high frequency can be heard in every section of the ship, even in the most turbulent storm. The vessel took part in the CADEX 2009 training exercise with the Indian Navy. This OPV represented Sri Lanka at the LIMA 2017 maritime exhibition in Malaysia, where 40 ships gathered from across the globe. SLNS Sayura maintains the finest naval traditions and is a vital part of our maritime defence. It was an amazing experience to be onboard this vessel and meet her sterling crew.