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Lankan Navy takes delivery of Ex-USCGC Douglas Munro

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Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) formally took the delivery of the Ex-United States Coast Guard Cutter, USCGC Douglas Munro, provided by the United States to SLN, in a ceremony held at the US Coast Guard Base Seattle of Washington in the United States on 26 October. On behalf of Commander of the Navy Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne, the event was attended by Chief of Staff of the Navy Rear Admiral Y.N. Jayarathne. As such, the ship formally joined the SLN fleet from 26 October under the pennant number P 627 and the main mast of the ship will fly the national flag effective from the very date.

Aiming to strengthen and develop partnerships to overcome common challenges in the maritime domain, US Coast Guard has previously provided two ships to SLN, and they are currently patrolling island waters by the names of ‘Samudura’ (P 621) and ‘Gajabahu’ (P 626). As an extension of partnership ties that bring value to each other’s service, Ex-USCGC Douglas Munro was transferred as the third ship to be handed to SLN.

Ex-USCGC Douglas Munro, the second ‘Hamilton Class High Endurance Cutter,’ received by the SLN measures 115 metres in length, capable of attaining maximum speed of 29 knots and endurance of 14,000 NM at cruising speed. Further, she has been designed for 187 of crew and is equipped with state-of-the-art weapons and machinery. The ship, which was used by the US Coast Guard, has rendered an exceptional service during her tenure by curbing illegal fishing, illegal immigration and the seizure of over 11.5 tons of cocaine in US waters.

Sri Lanka inherits an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that is seven times larger than the landmass. In such a backdrop, the Navy is determined to deploy this vessel in wide-ranging operations that include conservation of marine resources in the region, and search and rescue of naval and fishing communities in distress. Thereby, the Navy will be able to utilise this vessel efficiently in the future to achieve the national aspiration, while making safe and secure seas for all for economic affairs. In the same vein as the SLN’s Samudura (P 621) and Gajabahu (P 626), the Offshore Patrol Vessels received by SLN from the US Coast Guard on previous occasions have been conducting a praiseworthy role for the island nation and have contributed to the seizure of large consignments of drugs being smuggled via sea routes.

Further, as the first line of defence of the island nation, it is mandatory for the navy to be equipped with ships having higher endurance and operational capabilities. As such, acquisition of high endurance vessels to the SLN fleet will enable the country to achieve its maritime security aspirations resourcefully.

The designated SL Navy crew for the ‘EX USCG Douglas Munro’ is expected to undergo training and carry out necessary restoration attached to the US Coast Guard Base Seattle over the next seven months as scheduled and is scheduled to sail home port in 2022.

Thus, the ship’s home journey is to commence in 2022 and the voyage commencing from the Port of Seattle across the Pacific and Indian oceans to Sri Lanka will possibly be the longest ever sea voyage a Sri Lankan naval vessel has ever sailed in SLN history.

Meanwhile, the event at the US Coast Guard Base Seattle which saw the transfer of the Ex-USCGC Douglas Munro to SLN was attended by the Chief of Staff Rear Admiral Y.N. Jayarathne, representing the Sri Lanka Navy. As the USCG host, 13th District Commander Rear Admiral Melvin W. Bouboulis was present on the occasion.

Besides, the Adjutant General for the State of Montana Major General John P. Hronek II, Senior Assistant Secretary (Defense-III) Chinthaka Abeykoon, Deputy Director Naval Projects and Plans Captain Nimal Ranasinghe, Commanding Officer Designee P-627 Captain Lanka Dissanayake, Commanding Officer Base Seattle Captain Ibrahim M. Khalil official from the officials of the United States Embassy in Sri Lanka and officials from the State Department of United States were also present on this occasion.



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SL defenceless, warn experts

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New COVID variants

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Due to the lax testing at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), there is a strong possibility that any new variant of COVID-19 entering the country, College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President, Ravi Kumudesh told The Island yesterday commenting on the detection of a new coronavirus variant spreading in South Africa.

Even a travel ban would be useless unless the country enhances its testing and surveillance capacities, Kumudesh said.

Kumudesh said that PCR tests were not conducted on passengers on arrival and that it was likely that even those not fully vaccinated were entering the country. “Gene sequencing in respect of those infected with COVID inside the country was at a minimal level, and therefore, there is no way we can find out whether a new variant has entered the country until it is too late.

“There are two state-of-the-art labs in the BIA but no tests are done there. We are not ready, at all. Several nations are imposing travel bans on travellers from South Africa and the region. Perhaps, we should follow suit. However, the fact that we don’t test those coming in means that even a travel ban might be useless,” he said.

Kumudesh added that the number of PCR tests conducted had dropped to such a low level that reagents used in some labs for PCR testing are now nearing the expiry dates. The attitude of health officials at the airport is such that everyone operates on the basis that testing of passengers is not important.

Executive Director of the Institute for Health Policy (IHP), Dr. Ravi Rannan-Eliya yesterday said the detection of the new South African variant was potentially very bad news for all countries, and certainly for Sri Lanka.

“We still don’t have sufficient data on this, but I am very worried. It was only discovered a few days ago, but the scanty evidence strongly indicates that this new variant is driving a rapid increase in infections in S Africa. Only 100 cases have been confirmed officially, but reports indicate it may be 90% of new cases since Wed in Johannusburg,” he said.

Dr. Rannan-Eliya said that his best guess was that three out of four South Africans had been infected by COVID during the pandemic. Thus, a large number of them had acquired natural immunity. Moreover, 25% of others have been vaccinated.

“So this rapid spread despite a lot of immunity is very disturbing. This really points to this new variant—B1.1.529—being both more infectious and also significantly immune resistant. Something that also matches with its particular mutations,” he said.

Dr. Rannan-Eliya said he was not surprised at the emergence of the new variant because contrary to many experts who drink the kool-aid, there is no scientific basis to think SARS-CoV-2 had matured in its evolution. It might still have a lot of potential to evolve greater immune evasion and virulence, and that we should act on that basis.

“Second, because most of the world is following the misguided strategy of just accepting the virus (hey you – USA, UK, Sri Lanka…), the virus has plenty of chances to keep on mutating more because the truth is more of the virus is circulating than ever before. Third, despite a lot of nonsense about how T-cell immunity is going to protect us, there’s really no evidence that either infection or current vaccines and boosters will ever give us long-lasting immunity. We simply don’t know.”

Countries like South Africa, Peru, etc., who had such high levels of infection that much of their population was infected more than once, still continue to suffer new waves of infection.

“So this is bad news for all of us humans on planet earth, but very definitely for us in Sri Lanka. Why? Because based on how our medical establishment and govt authorities think, we will be slow or refuse to put the necessary border controls in to prevent this entering. And when it does enter-which is inevitable if this variant spreads globally–we will be slow to detect its entry, we will refuse to sound the alarm, and we will do everything but actually attempt to stop it. That’s been our track record, so why would it change? Worth noting that if this starts a new wave in Southern Africa, it’s just three to four months after their third wave. So just as immunity starts waning appreciably from natural infection (or vaccines). That gives us a strong hint of what our future holds unless we end this pandemic.”

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Navy deploys lagoon craft at Kurinchankerny until construction of new bridge

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Residents waiting for the boat

Sri Lanka Navy began providing transport facilities at the Kurinchankerny lagoon following the recent tragedy that claimed several lives. This service will continue until the construction of a new bridge at Kurinchankerny, Kinniya in Trincomalee is completed.

This initiative was set in motion following the directives of Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne. The Navy deployed a Lagoon Craft, capable of carrying 25 passengers safely at a time from Thursday (25) under the supervision of the Eastern Naval Command. The lagoon craft will be in service from 7.00 a.m. to 8.00 a.m. and from 12.00 noon to 2.00 p.m. each day. Further, the Navy erected a temporary jetty to allow passengers to board the vessel safely.

A schoolgirl on her way to the ferry
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UN Assistant Secretary General during talks with President pledges to work closely with Sri Lanka

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The United Nations will always work closely with Sri Lanka, said Khaled Khiari, UN Assistant Secretary General for Political, Peacebuilding and Peace Operations. Khiari made these remarks when he met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat, on Thursday (25).

UN Assistant Secretary General Khiari is visiting Sri Lanka as a follow-up to the bilateral meeting with the President and the UN Secretary- General Antonio Guterres held in September this year on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly. Khiari conveyed the best wishes of UN Secretary-General Guterres to President Rajapaksa and said that the UN is willing to engage in a constructive and positive engagement with Sri Lanka.

Expressing satisfaction over the President’s affection and interest in the environment, the Assistant Secretary General appreciated Sri Lanka’s commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The President explained that steps are being taken to plant 100,000 mangroves with the assistance of the Navy and actions are being taken to prevent climate change through environmental conservation programmes.

President Rajapaksa expressed gratitude to the UN agencies and donors that have assisted Sri Lanka through the COVAX facility to make the vaccination drive successful and in facing other challenges in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The President pointed out that the government’s development programme implemented in the North and East after the end of the war in 2009 had brought about rapid development. The President recalled his invitation made while participating in the UN General Assembly to the diaspora to work together with all communities after visiting Sri Lanka. The President said that he hoped that the invitation would be met with positive initiatives.

The two sides exchanged views on unity and relations between communities. An environment where all communities can live freely has been made available in Sri Lanka. The President pointed out that the Minister of Justice is from the Muslim community, the Attorney General is from the Tamil community and many of those holding other key posts are of different communities. President Rajapaksa said the government has undertaken a great task in building unity among the communities and therefore, no one should have any doubt in this regard.

Both sides were of the view that education was fundamental to unity among the communities. President Rajapaksa said that the process by which South Africa has been able to end apartheid and move forward will be studied and the lessons that can be learned from it and what can be implemented will be looked into. The President also expressed hope that the United Nations will provide assistance in this regard.

Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera and Principal Advisor to the President Lalith Weeratunga, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, and Political Officer at the UN Peace Operations Department’s Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Department Chiaki Ota were also present.

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