On November 1, 1871, Australia-bound steamer, SS Rangoon having set sail from the Galle Harbour, hit a shoal of deadly rocks known as Kada Rocks and ran aground. 150 years later since she went down to rest on the seabed, we recapture her last moments and share the accounts of some of the best Sri Lankan divers who had been captivated by her wreck site of scenic beauty, almost losing the sense of time
By Randima Attygalle
For almost one week Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigating Company owned steamer SS Rangoon was anchored at the Galle Harbor waiting for the arrival of the SS Travencore from China. The crew and the passengers of the Australian-bound SS Rangoon were restless waiting for the SS Travencore which was carrying mail for Australian colonies. Captain Skottowe who was at the helm of the steamer too was impatient to call it a day completing his final voyage before retirement. Three days had gone by with still no Travencore anywhere in sight. The irritated local agent for the shipping line finally gave the nod for the Rangoon to sail. However, Captain Skottowe was instructed by the agent that if at all he were to sight the Travencore, the much awaited mail from China was to be transferred from it. It was November 1, 1871. Around 6 pm, finally the Rangoon left the shores of the island. Although the Travencore never reached on time, even after the Rangoon set sail, several small boats which had arrived at the Galle Harbor soon after the Rangoon had left, sped up to the vessel to transfer mail from the British-occupied Ceylon to Australia.
The steamer was now more than 2kmfrom a shoal of deadly rocks known as the Kada Rocks and a strong north-westerly current was active. In Ghosts of the Deep- Diving the shipwrecks of Sri Lanka, author Dharshana Jayawardena- techdiver and an underwater photographer documents: ‘Although marked with a beacon, they (the Kada Rocks) lurked just a few kilometres southeast of the Galle Fort, invisible to the Rangoon in the dark. It did not take long for the unpowered ship to drift, broadside towards the rocks and 25 minutes after she had set sail, the Rangoon struck the shoal somewhere aft amidships and almost immediately started taking in water.’
While below the deck of the steamer the crew frantically worked the pumps to drain the holds and stoked the coal into the boilers to keep the engines running despite a rapidly increasing water line, women and children were ordered into life boats. Amidst the chaos of transferring them to boats ‘on deck, lights, rockets and flash guns of various colours were fired to alert authorities ashore and any othervessels close enough to come to assistance.’
Jayawardena, in a dramatic account goes onto describe the mayhem: ‘However, the Travencore threw another proverbial wrench into the works. Harbor authorities who saw the lights assumed and not without some relief that the Rangoon had finally made contact with the Travencore to exchange mail!’. Seeing the distress signals, SS Berenice and the SS Sydenham came to rescue the passengers off the Rangoon. Two more vessels- SS Arrow and the SS Hercules also joined in the rescue mission. ‘The rising water levels finally put the boilers out and the engines choked to a complete stop’, writes Jayawardena. Mercifully, all passengers and the crew were
saved, but there was no chance of the SS Rangoon being towed. While the captain and the crew kept vigil, a fleet of canoes from the nearby villages raced up to the sinking vessel to plunder whatever valuables on board. While many of them were collecting anything of value that was floating around, a few more daring ones wasted no time going below decks in search of more riches.
search of more riches. ‘With startling, crackling and snapping noises her stern suddenly plunged into the sea. The stem at the bow rose towards the stars, while billows of vapour caused by escaping air, gushed out of the Rangoon like its last breath. As everyone gazed in horror, she steadily sank into the depths of the ocean and disappeared from sight. All that remained of her were the top of the three masts,’ Jayawardena’s account says. In a twist of fate, while all 58 passengers and 149 crew escaped, the only casualties were the plunderers who boarded the vessel in search of loot. Only 13 of the 700 mailbags were saved. For more than a century, the SS Rangoon lay in deep slumber in the depths of the ocean undisturbed until the divers and fishermen stumbled upon the wreck in 1986. Lying at a depth of 30m right in front of the outer Galle Harbour the wreck of the Rangoon is a scenic dive site, says Jayawardena who first dived to it in 2006, exactly 20 years after the wreck was first discovered. Among the first few divers to have explored the wreck within weeks of its discovery, was Dr. Malik Fernando, a founder member of the Sri Lanka Sub-Aqua Club and also a member of the team who helped setup the Maritime Archaeology Unit here in the early 90s.
In an account detailing his first dive to the wreck of the Rangoon and the recovery of several artefacts, Dr. Fernando says that the ship’s bell had been recovered enabling the confirmation that it was the wreck of the Rangoon, however, the bell had disappeared soon after. Soon the news of ‘a large quantity of ceramicware spilling out of a hole in the side’ reached them. These were being ‘avidly collected by local divers intent on earning a fast buck by feeding the antique shops.’ Rising early on March 16, 1986 for the dive, Dr. Fernando recollects seeing Halley’s Comet in the south-eastern sky ‘at an elevation of 45 degrees, a good omen as it turned out to be.’ Describing the first part of the wreck that came into his view ‘like the palp of an enormous squid’, the diver documents that the ‘hull of the ship itself was upright on the sand’. The enormous hole in the side of the hull at the starboard quarter was ‘spilling masses of chinaware on to the sand.’ A few years later in a follow up dive in 1988, Dr Fernando observed that the ‘ship appeared to have been flattened’. Underwater blasting of wrecks in the area in search of non-ferrous metals and blast fishing targeting the shoals which thrive in wreck sites are attributed to this sad state of affairs.
“Although the wreck of the Rangoon is quite deteriorated, it’s a spectacular dive site making a diver forego the sense of time,” says Jayawardena. The stem at the bow reminds one of an ancient Viking ship he says although the Rangoon was far from it. “It was 60 m long with a tonnage of 1,800.” The sheer beauty of the marine life replete with soldier fish, glass fish, rabbit fish, grey snappers and bluefin trevally often distract a diver from focusing on the wreck says Jaywardena who had dived there several times. Sri Lanka can be termed the ‘shipwreck capital of South Asia’ says the explorer. “With over 100 shipwrecks dotting its coast, and many of them providing a great wreck diving experience, Sri Lanka leads the scene even surpassing the wreck diving experiences offered by countries such as the Maldives, India, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. In this context, the SS Rangoon is valuable to the country historically as well as from a tourism revenue generation point of view,” observes Jayawardena.
The Rangoon is among the eight shipwrecks found in Galle which could be accessed for recreational diving and is also the oldest ‘visible’ wreck among them, says Rasika Muthucumarana, Maritime Archaeologist from the Maritime Archaeology Unit of the Central Cultural Fund in Galle. “Most of the older shipwrecks dating back to the Dutch period are buried and are not visible to the recreational diver and they are only of archaeological importance. The Rangoon on the other hand is an important wreck for it has not only a recreational value but also a historical and a tourism value. It is also very rich in marine life.”
Lying on a clear, sandy bottom, the Rangoon is also considered an ‘ideal wreck’ because most of its components are still clearly identifiable says the Marine Archaeologist. “Her bow, anchor, stern, propeller and the mast are still visible.” Sadly, however, a good proportion of Rangoon’s bow was damaged last year when a ship was anchored on it, says Muthucumarana who calls for better awareness among the law implementing agencies about these shipwrecks which are not only an integral part of marine archaeology but also a vital tourism-generating source.
Pic credit: Rasika
Muthucumarana, Dr Malik
Fernando, Ghosts of the
Deep- Diving the shipwrecks of
Mövenpick Celebrates 5 years of Gratitude
General Manager – Mövenpick Hotel Colombo Roshan Perera has over 30+ years in the hospitality industry in Sri Lanka, Roshan has worked with multiple International and local brands – from the likes of Intercontinental Hotels, Taj Hotels and Palaces as well as multiple world class Sri Lankan Hotels.
Prior to joining the Mövenpick family, he served as a Director/CEO Laugfs Leisure Ltd managing the flagship brand of Anantaya Resorts & Spas.
With his continued efforts in professional development and numerous qualifications, Roshan is recognized by the American Hotel & Lodging Institute under the Certified Hotel Administrator programme. Meanwhile
Director of Sales and Marketing – Mövenpick Hotel Padmi Fernando, seasoned Sales and Marketing professional with 18 years of experience managing and leading teams across Sales, Marketing, PR, Reservations and Revenue Management of leading International and Local Hotel Brands.
Before joining Mövenpick, she also had Senior Management roles with Taj Hotels Sri Lanka, Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts and the Trans Asia Hotel.
Padmi is also a recipient of the prestigious Pioneer Woman Leader Award (2019) at the 6th World Women Leadership Congress and Awards organized by CMO Asia. Both the GM and Sales and Marketing manager spoke of thier success and challenges of the hotel.
What is the theme of the 5th Year Anniversary, on gratitude?
A: Padmi Fernando: Having faced many remarkable highs in our 5 years of existence and also some very deep lows caused by varied tumultuous challenges, we felt that our five-year Anniversary theme for Mövenpick Colombo is about, ‘Celebrating 5 years of Gratitude’. Essentially all of us at Mövenpick Colombo take this opportunity to celebrate our customers and partners, whose loyalty supported the Hotel and gave us wings to fly high and rise above tough times. Having had the support of our guests from all corners of the world have helped us remain filled with purpose and a sense of optimism. This celebrations is completely dedicated to our guests to make them feel valued and appreciated.
What are your plans to celebrate the 5th year anniversary?
Padmi Fernando: Well, to showcase our appreciation of our guests and partners, we curated meticulously planned ‘Gratitude Offers’. This includes a 25% discount which will be presented at any restaurant of our guests’ choice, on all a la carte meals. We also give guests a reason to celebrate with our extended 3-hour Happy Hour at Vistas, which will start from 5pm till 8pm daily. Robata Grill and Lounge, the Hotel’s Asian Inspired Restaurant will also gift a free bottle of wine to diners who dine in groups of five, in addition to the 25% discount available on a la carte.
Meanwhile Ayu, will serve a special Weekend Celebration Buffet. This special Buffet will be available and will also feature a mouthwatering kiddies’ buffet selection, making it a scrumptious celebration for the whole family.
We have also designed some incredible staycation deals, with all-inclusive Junior Suite offers with special pampering touches such as breakfast in bed and, high tea for two at Ayu restaurant. This is in addition to a host of other remarkable room deals for a relaxing break to unwind and recharge after a tough 2021.
How are you facing covid and what guidelines are you following at Group level?
Padmi Fernando: The health and safety of our guests and employees have been our absolute priority. We are proud to have won the AccorHotels Group ALLSAFE label verified by Clifton, an international independent party. This represents our new elevated hygiene protocols and standards and provides assurance that these standards have been met in our hotel. We have introduced intensified hygiene and prevention measures to ensure the safety of every single person who is welcomed through our doors. We are doing everything possible to reassure our guests and to anticipate their health and safety needs for a pleasant and satisfying stay.
Q: What did the Movenpick brand introduce to the hospitality industry in Colombo when it launched 5 years ago?
Roshan Perera: Movenpick Colombo was the first new International Hotel to open after 30 years, signifying a new and modern era in hospitality. At Mövenpick we are passionate about ‘making moments’. We recognise that small gestures make a big difference to our guests, our owners and our people. We do ordinary things in an extraordinary way – a philosophy that has defined our brand’s success from the very start. Historically Movenpick is a global Hotel Chain with Swiss roots and a restaurant and hospitality heritage that dates back to the 1940s. Movenpick’s very DNA is its F&B and is what the brand is globally famed for. This culinary prowess allows us to take our valued guests on an intriguing gastronomic journey. Our rooms are stunning and artistically appointed, and I would say that overall, our modern and upscale Movenpick brand invites guests to a one-of-a-kind, stylishly vertical urban experience. This has made us the hotel of choice for guests who travel on both business and leisure.
For the greater part of Movenpick’s existence it has faced challenges that heavily affected the hospitality industry. How have you overcome this?
Roshan Perera: There is no doubt that the Movenpick Team is resilient and harbours a deep sense of unity. Most of our staff have been with us since pre-opening and have showcased their loyalty and commitment through the highs and the lows. The Easter bombings and subsequent global pandemic affected us deeply along with the rest of the industry. However, standing strong and united and facing all the challenges that came our way with agility has allowed us to weather the storms. Our focused strategies combined with the robust backing of the Softlogic Group was also undoubtedly the wind beneath our wings that pushed us forward. We have enthusiastically embraced change and new ways of operating with speed and that has made all the difference.
Movenpick Hotels & Resorts come under the wings of the AccorHotels Group, while Softlogic Group owns the Hotel. How does this affect your products and services?
Roshan Perera: I would say that being part of these two giant entities makes our Hotel a remarkable brand powered by two highly respected forces. AccorHotels is a world-leading travel and lifestyle Group comprising 5000 hotels, resorts and residences accounting for over one million rooms worldwide. Meanwhile Softlogic Holdings PLC, is one of Sri Lanka’s most dynamic and progressive conglomerates, with industry headship in six business verticals, growing rapidly under an astutely visionary and trailblazing Leadership. The conglomerate is responsible for bringing the world’s most loved and luxurious global brands to the shores of Sri Lanka. This impeccable combination has allowed us to provide an unmatched hospitality experience to Sri Lanka.
What is the greatest challenge that the industry is facing?
Roshan Perera: The biggest challenge that we as an industry are currently facing is the retention of employees. In order to reduce diminishing talent, the industry must have a sustainable long term plan that benchmarks against international opportunities to keep Sri Lankan employment competitive. If not the industry will be pushed to source talent from overseas to bridge the gaps.
What are your plans for the future?
Roshan: We are excited about the many plans we have in the pipelines. We are working towards launching two new restaurants by quarter 2 of 2022. There are additional plans to launch more eclectic restaurants and unique offerings to provide patrons of Colombo with brand-new dining experiences. We are eager to see what the future holds and look forward to another vibrant and exhilarating 5 years ahead, helping our wonderful guests to continue making unique and unforgettable Movenpick moments.
With over 30+ years in the hospitality industry in Sri Lanka, Roshan has worked with multiple International and local brands – from the likes of Intercontinental Hotels, Taj Hotels and Palaces as well as multiple world class Sri Lankan Hotels.
Prior to joining the Mövenpick family, he served as a Director/CEO Laugfs Leisure Ltd managing the flagship brand of Anantaya Resorts & Spas.
With his continued efforts in professional development and numerous qualifications, Roshan is recognized by the American Hotel & Lodging Institute under the Certified Hotel Administrator program.
Singapore’s Kavita Thulasidas is back at Lady Hilton
Kavita Thulasidas the creative and managing director of Stylemart Singapore, who wowed Colombo with her stunning creations at her unforgettable show Threads of Time, will be back with her breathtaking outfits at the Lady Hilton Tea which will be held on February 11 at the Lab, Hilton Colombo.
Kavita and her Sri Lankan partner Anita Dorai who incidentally is also from Singapore are looking forward to working with the Hilton once again. “Since our fashion extravaganza Threads of Time the fashion event of the year; was cancelled due to Covid. However we now feel that the time is ripe h for another fashion show , said Anita and Kavita. “I also have an outlet at One Galle Face Mall which I opened soon after Threads of Time and as Colombo has taken very well to my designs, I felt the time was indeed right to showcase a new collection here in beautiful Sri Lanka”, said Kavita.
Kavita said her outfits have been made for the Colombo market taking into consideration the aesthetics, price points and upcoming occasions for this time of the year. “I have kept the outfits simple and easy to wear. The outfits in this collection are light fabrics and embroideries are balanced and not too over the top with s deisgn attention given more attention to the cuts and styles ,
These are designs suitable to wear for an elegant evening out, as well as outfits for weddings and festive occasions”.
The outfits will be priced reasonably. Clothes will be on sale both at the Hilton and thereafter at the Store at One Galle Face Mall. The sale will go on for a period of five days , from the 14th February to the 20th February. Kavita also said that she has some designs in production with sizes which could be executed made to measure.
Kavita will be using Sri Lankan models and once again Brian Kerkoven will be her choreographer with all models being from his model agency. A total of 60 outfits will be showcased and Colombo’s fashion elite are indeed in for a treat!
Giving Sri Lankan street dogs love, respect and a home
by Zanita Careem
An epitome of courage and wisdom, she is one of the top entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka, founder of Sri Lanka’s most stylish department where she served as Managing Director. Otara Gunawardena is truly inspirational.
She has earned many awards and notched several achievements. She was awarded the best female entrepreneur award at the Seventh US Stevie awards for Women in Business and 2018 Women of the Year Award by Women in Management (WIM).
Embark has become a popular brand. How do you account for it, its beginnings and its progress?
“Back in 2007, pedigreed dogs were popularly in demand but there were countless street dogs who needed care and love. Many of them were abused and unwanted. I wanted to change their circumstance and initiated Embark with the dream of providing a better life for our Sri Lanka’s street dogs and to give them the love, respect and the home they deserve.
“The brand was set up so that the profits would support the work we do with street dogs. It was also meant to help people to live a lifestyle supporting the cause and being ambassadors for the dogs with the clothing they wear. Most of the T- shirts have slogans conveying a positive message about street dogs in a fun way and many items became popular fashion statements.”
Explain the concept behind embark and the advocacy campaign for the welfare of homeless dogs?
“The concept was to make the street dog fashionable to own. And we have succeeded in doing so as more than 6,000 street pups have been re-homed, more than 60,000 vaccinated and sterilized throughout the island. Close to 35,000 plus street dogs have been rescued and treated over the last 15 years. Many people also now do their own rescues and adoptions.
“Embark mainly provides free medical treatment for sick and injured street dogs, the majority without owners. We also help find homes for pups who are abandoned on the streets. Besides the direct rescues we do there is also a foster network who rescues these pups, looks after them temporarily whilst we provide the required medical care – vaccinations, de-worming etc. and bring them to our monthly adoption programs where they find forever homes. We carried out many sterilization programs throughout the country and ensure there is population control within the street dog population in Sri Lanka. We also have a free medical clinic weekly at our head office in Colombo where we provide vaccinations, treatments and sterilizations for street/ adopted dogs.
What is your main focus in initiating this project?
“As explained previously, the main reason behind Embark is to give our Sri Lankan street dogs the love, respect and most of all the home that they deserve.”
Don’t you ever find the work you’re doing depressing and do you find any changes for the better?
“Sadly, the situation is quite dire in Sri Lanka but it has definitely improved from the past. There is now a no kill policy and sometimes there are programs of vaccination and sterilization implemented but unfortunately not done well. There is a lot more awareness and concern with people now against cruelty and also many more helping stray animals than before. However, there is still a lot of cruelty to elephants, an increase in terrible pet shops which are filled with suffering animals, cruel pedigree breeding, inhuman zoos, animals suffering in captivity etc.
“Lack of laws is a big issue too, something that has not changed despite many governments that have come and gone. It can be quite depressing to be aware of the cruelty and see it daily in a country such as ours where the need for compassion is stressed. We just do what we can each day to make a positive difference in the current situation.”
What has been the highlight of setting up Embark?
“Well, there are many, but I can say it has been rewarding to see a paralysed dog walk again, a dog who was severely ill recover and a rescued pup finding their forever home and living the best possible life. These may seem small achievements but they are close to my heart and I am glad I am able to help these amazing beings recover and live a good life. “
What are your programs to improve and protect animals and the environment in Sri Lanka?
“Embark under, Otara Foundation has been working on improving the lives of street dogs throughout the country, conducting rescue and re-homing initiatives whilst managing the canine population and preventing rabies through sterilization and vaccination programs across the country. Most of the rescues and treating of the injured are focused in the Western Province, but we do try our best to reach as best as we can in other areas.
“Embark has been at the forefront influencing policy in relation to animals and playing a vital role in making a significant change in the lives of animals and people alike.
“The Otara Foundation works with its accredited partners to promote large and medium-scale reforestation projects in the country. In addition, because it is the Foundation’s mandate that all life matters and every little effort is a step in the right direction, we support and promote smaller individual initiatives in reforestation and replanting. I personally advocate a better life for animals, speak out on behalf of the animals and participate in awareness.”
“I can only look at the change I have been able to make for animals and the environment and be grateful for what’s been achieved. The drawbacks are knowing how much more we need to do and can be done if there was conscious caring leadership as a lot of bigger change has to be initiated from the top.”
How does it feel being a female entrepreneur?
“It has been a challenging yet enjoyable journey. I am happy to have been able to change the direction of retail and fashion in Sri Lanka and to give a lot more women hope to follow their dreams and be who they want to be.”
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