Former Director and Acting Chairman of Marine Environment Protection Authority
MT New Diamond VLCC, Very Large Crude Carrier, flagged in Panama was reportedly carrying over 300,000 Mt of Crude Oil on its voyage to Pradip Port, India from Al Ahmadi in Kuwait when it caught fire off the eastern coast of Sri Lanka resulting in the death of a crew member and the evacuation of 23, five Greek and 18 Philippine nationals. The fire that broke out as a result of the explosion of a boiler resulted in a massive fire in the engine room and the bridge, which controls the ship. Fortunately, the fire had not spread to the oil tanks which would h ave resulted in a major oil spill. If the three million barrels of oil leaked, it could have spealt devastation to many of the marine mammals that live in vibrant habitats along the eastern coast of Sri Lanka and the vibrant eastern economy where a hive of activities is taking place such as fisheries, tourisms, agriculture and consequently to the livelihood income of the people.
Effects of Petroleum Contamination
Petroleum contamination is a growing environmental concern that harms both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems equally. However, in view of the major disasters caused to the marine environment, the public and regulatory and scientific communities have given more attention to the contamination of marine habitats. This is because marine oil spills can have a serious economic consequence on coastal activities as well as on those who exploit the resources of the sea. Thus, communities that are at risk of oil disasters must anticipate the consequences and prepare for them. The above mentioned disaster is an eye opener for all the stakeholders to take a serious view.
Marine environmental pollution caused by petroleum is of great concern because of the fact that petroleum hydrocarbons are toxic to all forms of life and harm both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. In recent years the pollution of marine habitats has caught the attention of researchers and environmentalists owing to the serious impact of oil spills on marine life, as well as on people whose career relies on the exploitation of the ocean’s resources. Additionally, marine life may be affected by clean-up operations, whatever the precautions taken. It may also be indirectly affected by the physical damage to the habitats in which plants and animals live in.
The writer has had firsthand information while being a former Director of the Marine Environmental Protection Authority (MEPA) and has attended series of scientific and technical sessions delivered by the International Maritime Organization (IOM) and effectively contributed to the deliberations with regard to OPRC (Oil Spill Preparedness and Response) a decade ago and it is with such an authoritativeness, the writer compiled this short essay on the effects of petroleum oil spills on marine life. This exercise would not be a worthwhile attempt, if the economic impact of oil spills on coastal activities with special reference to eastern theatre in which the above major fire brokeout and on the people who exploit the resources of the sea.
GLOBAL OIL SPILL TREND
Over the last 50 years, there has been a marked downward trend in oil spills from tankers. The average number of spills per year in the 1970s was about 79 and has now decreased by over 90 percent to a low of six according to the International Tankers Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF). The lowest annual number of spills was recorded in 2019 and the highest in 1974. If one were to analyze the quantities of oil spilt, one would note that approximately 5.86 million tons of oil have been lost as a result of tanker incidents globally since 1970. However, there has been a significant reduction in volume of oil spilt through the decades. The total amount spilt per decade has reduced by about 95% since the 1970s.
An interesting pattern of alternating sharp decline and stability can be observed for average volume of oil spilt per decade. Nonetheless, quantity of oil spilt in a particular year or a decade is unpredictable, and the trend can be hugely distorted by a single large spill. In case, the fire caused to MT New Diamond resulted in an oil spill over 270,000 Mts, it would have been the one of the major oil spills recorded in recent times in Sri Lanka. The most frequent causes of oil spills are allisions/collisions, groundings and Fires. However, the proportion of groundings has decreased over the decades, making allisions, collisions and Fires, the current most frequent cause of spills. Today, about 99.99% of oil transported by sea arrives safely at its destination. The positive reports on trends in oil tanker spills endorse the hard work by governments, industry and ITOPF in improving safety and standards of operations.
With a spate of major disasters linked to major shipping routes in the past few years, the time is opportune for the world leaders and the international authorities such as IOM to have the wisdom and courage with a view to taking stock on global shipping reforms. It must be pointed out here that Sri Lanka witness more than 800 vessels passing through Sri Lanka per day posing an imminent threat to the Sri Lankan economy. Hence, it cannot be completely ruledout another disaster of this magnitude, if preventive measures are not taken.
Crude oil and its properties
The ill fate MT New Diamond carried crude oil which is a complex mixture of organic compounds. These mainly consist of hydrocarbons, in addition to heterocyclic compounds and some heavy metals. The different hydrocarbons that make up crude oil come in a wide range of molecular weights and structure compounds. These compounds include methane gas, high molecular weight tars, asphaltenes, resins, waxes and bitumen. They also include straight and branched chains, single or condensed rings and aromatic rings such as the monocyclic (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene). They additionally include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) such as naphthalene, anthracene and phenanthrene. Obviously, the chemical composition of crude oil is injurious not only to the mankind but also to marine ecosystems.
Physical contact is the major route of exposure and usually affects birds and furred mammals. These animals rely on their outer coats for buoyancy and warmth. Consequently, they often succumb to hypothermia, drowning and smothering when oil flattens and adheres to the outer layer. A second general exposure route is through the ingestion or inhalation of the hydrocarbon by organisms that reside on the surface. Exposure by these routes leads to absorption into the bloodstream via the gastrointestinal or respiratory tracts.
Toxicity of oil dispersants
Oil dispersants (57 chemical ingredients approved for use by the US EPA) are a common tool used after oil spills in marine environments. They break up oil slicks on the water surface and increase the oil’s rate of biodegradation. Oil dispersants are quickly used when other means, such as oil containment and removal, are insufficient. However, consequences of the toxicity of oil spill dispersants alone or in the presence of oil must be evaluated. Generally, undispersed oil poses the greatest threat to shorelines and surface-dwelling organisms. However, most dispersed oil remains in the water column where it mainly threatens pelagic and benthic organisms.
Fate of oil spills in the marine habitats
After oil is spilled at sea and with the effect of wind and water current, the oil spreads out and moves on the water surface as a slick a few millimetres thick. At the same time, it undergoes a series of chemical and physical changes. These processes are collectively termed ‘weathering’. Weathering causes the spilled oil to break down and become heavier than water. Some of these processes, like the natural dispersion of oil into water, lead to the removal of the oil from the sea surface and facilitate its natural breakdown in the marine environment. Others, particularly the formation of water-in-oil emulsions, cause the oil to become more persistent and remain at sea or on the shoreline for prolonged periods of time. The speed and relative importance of these processes depend on a number of factors. These include the quantity spilled, the oil’s initial physical and chemical characteristics, weather and sea conditions and whether the oil remains at sea or is washed ashore. Ultimately, the marine environment usually eliminates spilled oil through the long-term process of biodegradation.
Oil spills on marine organisms
Ultimately, the impact of oil on marine organisms depends on the fate of the oil. As previously described, when oil is present in the environment, it is either dispersed in the top layer of the water (littoral zone) or remains on the surface and, consequently, on the coastal areas. If the oil is not dispersed, it remains on the surface. In this case, currents bring the oil towards coastal areas which harms coastal organisms like invertebrates, mammals and birds. However, if the oil is dispersed, organisms, such as fish, plankton and larvae, are immediately subjected to oil toxicity.
Oil spills on planktonic organisms
Zooplankton is a particularly important food resource, especially for baleen whales. It can influence or control the primary productivity by top-down effects in return. Its population dynamic change can influence the biomass of other marine animals like fish by bottom-up effects. Some zooplankton, such as copepods, euphausiids and mysids, assimilate hydrocarbons directly from seawater and by ingesting oil droplets and oil contaminated food. The ingestion of oil by these organisms often causes mortality, while surviving organisms often show developmental and reproductive abnormalities.
Oil spills on coral reefs
In addition, recreational attractions for divers, coral reefs are considered to be important constituents of marine ecosystems. This is because they are important nurseries for shrimp, fish and other animals. The aquatic organisms that live within and around the coral reefs are at risk of exposure to the toxic substances within oil, as well as smothering. They are rapidly deteriorating because of a variety of environmental and anthropogenic pressures. Thus, they are suffering significant changes in diversity, species abundance and habitat structure worldwide. Oil dispersants are potentially harmful to marine life including coral reefs. In a study using coral nubbins in coral reef ecotoxicology testing, found that dispersed oil and oil dispersants are harmful to soft and hard coral species at early life stages.
Oil spills on fish
Due to the well-developed hepatic mixed function oxygenase (MFO) system, in addition to the reactivity of the metabolites that would not be released in a toxic form during digestion and absorption, most fish, even in heavily oil-contaminated environments, do not accumulate and retain high concentrations of petroleum hydrocarbons. Thus, they are not likely to transfer them to predators. Thus, no serious threat is predicted.
Oil spills on seabirds
As one of the major routes of exposure, physical contact usually affects birds. For example, thousands of African penguins (Spheniscus demerus) were oiled following the 2000 Treasure oil spill in South Africa.An evaluation of the impact of oil spills on seabirds has not been fully appreciated during incidents, despite pressure from the public concern, media and other interested parties for precise and up-to-date information on the damage. Consequently, the approximate numbers of seabird casualties involved in many major spills have only been estimated, while impacts at the population level have been difficult to determine. Natural variation and the huge range of factors that influence bird population statistics make it difficult to assess the impact of oil spill on sea birds.
Oil spills on marine mammals
Marine mammals include bottlenose dolphins, fins, humpbacks, rights, sei whales, sperm whales, manatees, cetaceans, seals, sea otters and pinnipeds. As previously indicated, the physical contact of oil with furred mammals usually affects these animals because they rely on their outer coats for buoyancy and warmth. Consequently, these animals often succumb to hypothermia, drowning and smothering when oil flattens and adheres to the outer layer.
As part of their activities, all marine mammals spend a considerable amount of time at the surface. Here, they swim, breathe, feed or rest. Thus, the possibility of their contact with a surface slick, water-in-oil emulsion, or tar balls, is high. In heavy pelage marine mammals, such as fur seals, sea otters and polar bears, this contact may lead to fouling. Polar bears and otters groom themselves regularly as a means of maintaining the insulating properties of the fur and may, thereby, ingest oil. Animals with smooth surfaces or relatively little to no pelage, such as whales, dolphins, manatees and most seals, have an advantage as oil would have fewer tendencies to adhere to their surface.
Oil that contaminates a shore is likely to severely affect pinnipeds. Pinnipeds require such areas for nursery and, to a lesser extent, otters and bears. Some of the oil is eventually returned in subtidal sediments, where it may transfer to gray whales, walrus and some seals. Such species feed heavily on benthic animals.
When marine mammals encounter fresh oil, they are likely to inhale volatile hydrocarbons evaporating from the surface slick. These volatile fractions contain toxic monoaromatic hydrocarbons (benzene, toluene and xylenes) and low molecular weight aliphatics with anaesthetic properties. The inhalation of these volatile hydrocarbon compounds is potentially harmful. The inhalation of concentrated petroleum vapours can cause the inflammation of and damage to the mucus membranes of airways, lung congestion or even pneumonia. Volatile benzene and toluene, which can be inhaled, can be transferred rapidly from the bloodstream into the lungs. Furthermore, they can accumulate from the blood into the brain and liver, causing neurological disorders and liver damage.
Oil spills on marine plants
In several aspects, aquatic plants are important to the functioning of ecosystems. These include the fact that they are oxygen producers, their ability to sequester carbon and for their base position in aquatic food chains. In addition, they serve as nursery, feeding and breeding habitats for a variety of animal and plant species, including recreationally and commercially important fish. Plants and animals are affected by the oil in which they come into contact with as a result of an oil spill. In their review of toxicities of oils, dispersants and dispersed oils to algae and aquatic plants.
Communities at risk of marine oil spills/anticipation and preparation
The threatening of marine environments with the petroleum oil spills has caught the attention of many communities, encouraging them to develop their own plans and policy issues. These have ranged from permitting or prohibiting increased oil transport volumes, to developing the capacity to respond to and recover from potential spill disasters.
Local communities that depend on the fishing industry, aquaculture and tourism should realize that the impact of an oil spill is governed by complex factors. These include the oil spill’s volume and location relative to fishing/cultivation areas, currents, tides and wave action. Other factors include whether species harvested in the region are sedentary or mobile, as well as government decisions relating to fishing bans and compensation schemes.
Economic impact of oil spills in the Eastern Region
Though Eastern Province (EP) has primarily an agriculture-based economy, it has an appreciable contribution to the national economy by way of Fish production and tourisms. Approximately, 25% of the nations fish production is generated by the EP and livelihood income of the fishing community employed in the coastal belt has a tremendous impact of the socio-economic status of the people. The EP has also received an unprecedented development in the tourism sector in the last few decades in that Pottuvil Arugam Bay, Lahugala Panama Beach, Pigeon Island, Nilaveli Beach have become attractive tourist destinations. Hence, any possible oil spill of a huge magnitude could have a devastating impact on all these vibrant economic sectors. Marine oil spills can have a serious impact not only on marine life, but on the gamut of all economic coastal activities and the communities that exploit the resources of the sea as seen above.
Involvement of multiplicity of Players
All in all, the joint efforts put in by Sri Lanka Navy, Air Force, Ports Authority and our Indian counterparts in dousing this fire have to be commended. His Excellency’s timely appreciation to all the players in averting this major calamity is most praiseworthy. It would be grossly unfair, if the names of the Chairperson and the General Manager of the Marine Environment Protection Authority namely Mrs. Dharshani Lahandapura and Dr. Terny Pradeep Kumara gone unnoticed for the magnificent roles they played behind the scene in educating the public and the media as to the possible marine consequences that could have arisen of this catastrophe as well as the mitigatory measures silently adopted to meet the possible oil spill.
Ironically, the above incident has raised many unanswered questions as a whole. As organizations, how much of advanced preparedness the authorities have set in motion to avert maritime catastrophes of this magnitude. Sri Lanka is woefully lacking the sources and resources to meet any eventuality of this magnitude, though it is claimed as a major maritime hub. As committed institutions, what proactive measures have we taken as a nation to deal with the sensitive marine ecosystems referred to above. It is intended to deal with these aspects in a separate column in due course.
The right groove…for local DJs
Some of the big names in the DJ industry at the ceremony
We do have a few associations, around, that work for the benefit of those involved in the entertainment field.
Yes, there’s an association for oriental artistes and also one, catering to the needs of the local Western musicians.
In fact, I believe the second AGM 2020 of the Western Musicians’ Association was held just recently, in Colombo.
Well not to be outdone, an association, for local deejays, has become a reality. And, that’s encouraging news, indeed!
The Ceylon Disc Jockeys’ Association (CDJA) was incorporated on July 5th, 2020, and the inaugural forum, involving the disc spinners, as well as the big names of the past, took place at the Movenpick Hotel, on Sunday, September 5th.
Several well-known personalities, in the entertainment field, were seen at the forum.
The CDIA will certainly be a boon to the local DJ industry.
The lighting of the traditional oil lamp at the inauguration ceremony
The Vice-President of the Association, Romesh Fernando, said that connecting both the present and past DJs, within an industry with a rich history of over 45 years, is the cornerstone of the CDJA.
The forming of an Association for DJs was an idea in the making for many years, but never became a reality. However, with the entertainment scene changing drastically, due to the Coronavirus pandemic that has affected the whole world, and the hardships faced by many DJs, in recent times, the need for a Single, Unified Voice for all Disc Jockeys, in Sri Lanka, became an absolute necessity – thus, the Ceylon Disc Jockey’s Association was born.
The Board of Management consists of some of the pioneering DJs, who have made a mark as business leaders and entrepreneurs in the country’s DJ and Entertainment Circuits.
The Office-Bearers are: Gerry Jayasinghe (Chairman and President), Romesh Fernando (Vice President), Kosala Sureshchandra (Secretary), and Kapila Peiris (Treasurer).
The Committee Members are: Bonnie Perera, Niranjan Wanigasuriya (Asst. Secretary), Chamila Perera (Asst. Treasurer), Thanujika Perera, Serul Wimalasena and Amal Fernando.
The Advisory Council consists of Harpo Goonaratne and Roshan Wijeyaratne, while the Legal and Compliance Officer is Tareeq Musafer.
“Our Mission is to be committed towards improving the career opportunities, skill levels and performance capabilities of our members, and gathering DJs from all around Sri Lanka, under a single Organization. Our Vision is to gain the professional recognition that talented and good DJs truly deserve,” said a spokesman for the Association.
The Constitution of the Ceylon Disc Jockeys’ Association (CDJA) is focused on three main principles. As an industry, to develop, improve and advance the Art and Science of the DJ, to advance Public Education and Understanding of the art and science of the DJ, and improving the Professional standing of the DJ.
The Association offers three types of Memberships – Full Time, Part Time and Student Memberships. It also has a category of Honorary Memberships presented to senior DJs who have significantly added value and changed the landscape of Sri Lanka’s DJ Industry.
Members will also receive many benefits from Insurance schemes, Healthcare privileges, Membership Recognition, Legal advice and Discounts from Equipment retailers. Above all, the CDJA offers a sense of Community and Oneness, as an Industry, and shall uphold its members at all times.
The Ceylon Disc Jockey’s Association (CDJA) has a very strong mandate towards Education. To that end, it will offer Soft skills Development in Communication Skills, Email Etiquette and Writing Skills, as well, and Basic Compering, etc., which are added proficiencies, required by DJs to better their business scope.
The Association has also planned for Seminars and Workshops on Small Business Development, Legal Compliance, Taxation, SME Policy Frameworks and Start up Training, conducted by Sector Professionals. Apart from Academic programmes, the CDJA will implement initiatives to inculcate Creativity and Originality in DJs.
Through these initiatives, the CDJA hopes to create a new landscape in the Mobile, Producer and Event DJ Circuits of Sri Lanka.
“Especially in these difficult times, a New Outlook and a Commitment to Excel, is what our Association hopes to promote and develop,” the spokesman added.
Invitees and celebrities taking in the scene at the Movenpick Hotel
China Cultural Centre – Sixth Anniversary celebrations !
By Chamara Ranmandala
Consultant – local Affairs
China Cultural Centre in Sri Lanka
(Based on an interview with
Liwen Yue, Director
China Cultural Centre in Sri Lanka
The China Cultural Centre (CCC) in Sri Lanka is celebrating its 6th year anniversary of its establishment as the official organization for cultural exchange in Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lanka CCC is the 16th overseas China Cultural Centre established globally under the patronage of China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, which was inaugurated on 16th September 2014 by his Excellency the Chinese President Xi Jinping and then Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The preparations and establishment of the CCC was carried out by the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Sri Lanka, and it is run and operated by a working team from China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
This article attempts to highlight the significance of this cultural relationship, and the establishment of a path for cultural exchange between the peoples of China and Sri Lanka.
A 1000-year-old friendship refreshed
Although the formal bilateral relationship between Sri Lanka and China was established only 63 years ago, the history of the friendship between the two countries dates back far beyond. The recorded history origins from the times of Jin Dynasty of China, where such information is found in the written stories of famous Chinese buddhist monk Faxian, who travelled to Sri Lanka between 410 – 415. Sri Lanka has been a very important partner during the ancient times where significant trade was carried out through the maritime silk route, used as a gateway to bridge East Asia and South Asia. The archaeological findings in Sri Lanka are evident to this trade and exchange of cultural values taking place between Sri Lanka and China.
The establishment of the China Cultural Centre in the year 2014 has significantly brought the bilateral cultural exchange to a totally different level. Across the world, the Chinese Cultural Centres have contributed immensely to establish the meaning and significance of authentic cultural values of China, which is often misinterpreted by many. It is evident that the world has not enough chances to experience the traditional culture and values of China. Hence the 60+ cultural centres established in various countries have attempted to bridge this gap of understanding the real cultural values of China without infiltrating to the local culture but supporting and thriving together with the customs of respective ways and norms.
As the 16th overseas China Cultural Centre amongst the 60+ other centres across the world, and as the first center inaugurated by the two presidents of the respective countries, the CCC in Sri Lanka highlights its importance and the value placed on the friendship of the two countries, which was created many centuries ago between China and Sri Lanka.
Cultural exchange – continued effort with variation
The China Cultural Centre has now become a fully functional apparatus that enables cultural exchange through many different facets and complementing programs. The CCC is in a constant drive to educate the society at large how cultural exchange helps to bridge the gaps and bring the peoples of the countries much closer to each other.
During the past six years, the Sri Lankan culture-loving society was exposed to some of the unique experiences of traditional Chinese art, music and dancing, calligraphy, cinema, drama, authentic Chinese cuisine, photography and intangible cultural heritage through the commitment of China Cultural Centre in Sri Lanka.
The events carried out by the CCC are aligned to the diverse cultural heritage of many different parts of China, and many of them are held in the form of “Cultural Week”, planned by the CCC and organised together with some local partners, including scholars, artists, painters, photographers and journalists who have travelled across China. The “cultural weeks” reflect many aspects of Chinese cultural heritage from different areas. Based on the need, the CCC sponsors and brings down the respective professional artists who are highly regarded as unique contributors of nurturing and preserving the authentic cultural heritage of China. The CCC also accommodates Chinese scholars, journalists and media personnel to be a part of these “cultural weeks”, thus enabling the knowledge sharing amongst different audiences.
The cultural footprint of China is not only limited to events of cultural exchange, but also is extended to long standing relationships through memorandums of understanding (MOU) with many local institutions such as libraries, museums and various friendship associations. The contribution through the Confucius institutions established at various universities in Sri Lanka, such as the University of Kelaniya, is another approach adopted by the CCC to provide greater access to resources and scholarships for the students who pursue higher studies in Chinese language, literature and culture.
Appreciation of the communities
across Sri Lanka
The educational knowledge and unique experience achieved from those programs and events organized by the CCC can meet various appetites of a wider spectrum of the society and intellects. Moreover, the officials of the CCC have made every attempt to reach out to most remote communities in Sri Lanka creating value for all age groups who witness and engage with the programs. This is highly commendable since most international cultural programs are being focused only on a limited crowd in a major city in Sri Lanka. The CCC has done the opposite way and concentrated on both urban and rural areas, which benefited more people here.
At present, the CCC has carried out over 100 programmes, including more than 300 various types of activities and events (including performances, exhibitions, lectures, workshops, teaching programmes, and etc.). More than half of Chinese provinces (Jiangsu, Hubei, Canton, Jiangxi, Shanxi, Yunnan…and etc.), provincial-level autonomous regions (such as Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Guangxi, Xinjiang, and Ningxia), provincial-level municipalities (Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin) , and Chinese SAR Hong Kong have been invited by the CCC to conduct different cultural exchange programmes in Sri Lanka.
On the other hand, the events organized by the CCC have reached people in all 9 provinces of Sri Lanka as well, where specially skilled artists are not hesitant to delight an audience of students or parents at a Sunday school, a university, a school in a remote part of a district, government institutions, and even a military camp. All events of cultural heritage are held with complete sponsorship of the CCC, thus enabling all Sri Lankans to experience most of these high-level events free of charge.
These events are a first to many where most Sri Lankans are amused and appreciative of the skill and professionalism of the artists and performers, who participate in these events and create positive vibes about China and its friendly people.
The efforts of the CCC are also extended to enable and strengthen the ties between the media and journalist forums of Sri Lanka and China. The cordial sponsorship of professional programmes conducted for the benefit of the Sri Lanka journalists in China is such an instance that the CCC extends their hand to build friendship and confidence among all stakeholders.
The future of the friendship
It is obvious that the expectation of the CCC is to build a cultural relationship amongst the peoples of both countries. The CCC has successfully created an atmosphere of understanding the true nature of authentic Chinese culture whilst respecting and appreciating the Sri Lankan values and traditions.
With the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI), which attempts to bring economic and cultural prosperity to all the nations from far East to Africa and Europe, there is no doubt that the China Cultural Centres will go on playing a vital role in defusing the misconceptions level against the great efforts of the People’s Republic of China. Sri Lanka, being part of the BRI through the maritime silk route and having a better understanding of China and its people, will also play an important role in bridging the gaps between the countries of the BRI.
The future road will probably be a challenging one! However, as proven in the past, the sincere friendship between the two countries and the mutual respect to each other’s culture and value will be the north star for both of our nations to follow during challenging and dark times. With the efforts of past six years, the China Cultural Centre has contributed much more to Sri Lanka and its people, and surely enough, it will continue to do so, nurturing the friendship which China and Sri Lanka value so dearly.
Rexy and Chappela:
View of the Trincomalee harbour entrance from Chapel Hill Radar station
Canine war veterans
An extract from the book ‘Read Between the Lines’
by Admiral Ravindra
(Retired from Sri Lanka Navy)
Former Chief of Defence Staff
Are you a dog lover? If not, you do not know what love is. This story is about two dogs, Rexy, a beautiful female German shepherd and Chappela a ‘Pariah dog’, (Pye-dog), a male, whose parents were not known.
Twelve years ago, my son was very keen to have a puppy. I discouraged him as I knew that looking after the dog would be my responsibility sooner or later. My wife Yamuna remained noncommittal whenever the ‘dog talk’ came up during dinner.
Someone had advised Yamuna that as our son was the only child at home it was good to have a pet for him. So, she purchased this puppy. The owners had about five puppies for sale and asked Yamuna to select one. She had said she would choose the one who came towards her first. One puppy left her mother and came towards Yamuna wagging her tiny tail. So, she was selected and named Rexy.
I was serving in Trincomalee as the Commandant of Naval and Maritime Academy (NMA) and Flag Officer Commanding Naval Fleet (FOCNF) at that time. Our Naval Base Trincomalee was under constant threats from LTTE long range weapons and suicide boat attacks from terrorists at that time (2006). The attacks came from the Southern side of the Trincomalee harbour from Sampoor and Sudaikudah. We were always alert and a bright idea was floated by then Commander Fast Attack Craft Squadron, Captain (then) Nandana Jayaratne to fix a Radar and day-night thermal camera at the top of Chapel Hill, the highest positioned the Naval Base, so that we could watch Sampoor area and Trincomalee harbour-mouth well. I volunteered to implement the project, and we fixed the required equipment at Chapel Hill. Several tumbledown buildings which had housed the First World War time Naval Signal station were renovated in double-quick time to use as accommodation for naval personnel detailed for duty, both for Radar and security of the place.
Chapel Hill is far away from main base, and to reach there, you have to trail through a jungle patch. This trail was widened and tarred.
Chapel Hill Radar Station became “my kingdom”. I ensured that very high standards and professionalism were maintained with the help of NMA Navigation School. I used to sleep there at night so in a contingency, I had the complete picture of the Trincomalee harbour, the approaches and Sampoor on radar, thermal camera and visually. It was great a observation position for safety of ships/craft entering and leaving the Trincomalee harbour, which we called as ‘Choke Point’ in our strategic terms. I very well knew that young Commanding Officers of our ships/craft had a lot of confidence and motivation when they heard my voice on their communication sets, directing them and giving details of possible threats at the harbour approaches. So, Chapel Hill became my “Chalet” in Trincomalee.
I saw a black and white puppy by the side of the road leading to Chapel Hill. It was a male left behind by a pack of dogs in jungle area. He was weak and full of ticks and fleas. I took him in my vehicle and gave him a new home at Chapel Hill. After a shampoo bath and powdering he looked very nice and healthy. He was a lovely puppy with no fear of the jungle, barked very loud. It was an ideal outdoor dog. My sailors at Chapel Hill Detachment became very fond of this puppy and they named him “Chappela”.
All our Detachments were given extra food and tea rations. So, Chappela had enough and more food. Chappela was looked after very well by my sailors.
After one month of pampering by Yamuna and our son, Rexy became very naughty. She sometimes peed on my son’s bed. At other times she would tear my son’s socks. The final warning came when she chewed the best squash shoes of Ravi junior. When I went home on leave, Yamuna allowed me to take Rexy to Trincomalee. My son was upset but Yamuna thought Rexy required some training and discipline. So, Rexy’s first transfer came to the Naval and Maritime Academy under the Commandant to be trained and disciplined.
Rexy adapted to the new environment quickly. She would join me in my morning beach run at Coral Cove. She loved roaming around on the beach. She was fed well with fresh fish by my cook, Gunawardena. Her best friend was my steward Rathnayake. She had another friend, a huge Sambar which visited my garden. She was very fond of Cadets (44th Intake) whom I trained in swimming. She accompanied me to the swimming pool and kept on barking at the cadets. In the evening, she travelled with me in my double cab. (I was driving with her in the front seat) to my Chapel Hill Chalet to spend the night. So, two puppies, Rexy and Chappela became thick pals there.
On 1st August 2006, the LTTE fired its big guns at the Naval Base in Trincomalee. Some of those artillery rounds targeted the SLN passenger ship (Jetliner) carrying 1,700 troops from Jaffna to the Trincomalee harbour. Other rounds fired at Naval and Maritime Academy killed one instructor and four trainees. It was lunch time at NMA (1230hrs). Some sailors were mustered in front of Quartermaster Lobby, and a few shells fell there killing and injuring naval personnel. I rushed to Chapel Hill in my double cab with Rexy. The competent senior sailors there, Chief Petty Officer Jayaweera and Petty Officer Ruwansiri were already on day camera and trying to locate enemy artillery guns. FACs led by Lieutenant Commander (then) Samaranayake were on escort duties of Jetliner and they ensured that Jetliner entered the Trincomalee harbour safely with troops on board. We directed our Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRLs) at enemy positions. Rexy and Chappela were at my feet, frightened by the deafening sound of artillery and MBRLs. Air support was called and Kafirs were scrambled from the Katunayaka airport. The LTTE pulled their guns back to safe locations. We lost a golden opportunity to destroy their heavy weapons.
That night we shifted our MBRLs from dockyard grounds to a better location at the Oxford Circus (where the present-day car park of our Naval Museum is located). Army Artillery Corps MBRL Gun crews led by Captain Madugalla were briefed by me and we planned our coordination where Chapel Hill Radar station would play the role of Forward Observer.
We were not fully ready to face the LTTE artillery barrage on 1st August. Our unpreparedness cost us dear. When the LTTE fired again their artillery guns on 12th August 2006 night, we were ready with MBRLs. The MBRL firing was directed on enemy gun positions clearly visible with our thermal camera with temperature difference at night. The red-hot artillery gun barrels were clearly visible 8 km away from Chapel Hill at Sudaikudah beach. We were able to destroy enemy guns, ammo and gun crews. Our thermal camera screen blackened out due to large thermal emissions of burning guns and ammunition. Very loud explosions were heard from the Sampoor area. That was the last time the LTTE fired their artillery guns in the Eastern Province. This was the first time in Sri Lanka the thermal cameras were used to direct our MBRLs on enemy gun positions. Later, Chapel Hill Radar station played a major role in saving Naval Detachment at Muthur from enemy attacks and became an invaluable addition to our Naval Base Trincomalee.
Fall of Shots of LTTE Arty Fire
Amidst threats of another LTTE artillery barrage, Rexy got another immediate transfer to my home in Colombo. From that day she became most loved one at home. After all, she went back to Colombo as a war veteran who had faced enemy artillery attacks!
Chappela remained in Chapel Hill, guarding the location and giving support to naval personnel protecting Trincomalee harbour. He missed his friend.
Shampoo, powder and vitamins Rexy was getting were delivered to Chappela as well. Chappela always enjoyed a sea bath on Sundays at Chapel beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. (Rexy got her Sunday bath in a shower cubical at our home!) I had two responsibilities on Sundays when I was at home. The first was to clean the toilets and shower cubicles. I am a very good toilet cleaner thanks to my basic training at the Naval and Maritime Academy Trincomalee and Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth UK. We clean our toilets on board ships. When we live on board ships in an air conditioned environment, keeping toilets very clean is important. I know that I am a very good toilet cleaner.
After I finished my work, I cleaned sinks and toilet bowls, polished toilet seats and bidets, mopped floor tiles, polished showers, taps and rails, and replaced, towels and air fresheners. My son gave me the “Best toilet cleaner” award a long time ago. Yamuna hates my toilet cleaning habit, but I enjoy it.
The other job I was assigned to do on Sunday was to give Rexy a shampoo bath. Rexy loved water. If I was late, she would go and sit in the bathroom until I came. When the bath was over, it was up to Yamuna to dry her and cut her nails, apply various types of powders, clean her ears/teeth and brush her beautiful coat. Rexy loved pampering and sometimes “demanded” our love.
When my job was over, I also had a bath, and obviously I was wet after bathing Rexy.
After my bath, I sat down in my easy chair with Sunday newspapers and my steward Dissanayake would bring my glass of Cognac with ginger ale and a plate of fish fingers. Rexy would sit near my feet knowing that she would get her share of fish fingers before her healthy Sunday lunch. I would have my afternoon nap after lunch; Rexy would jump into my bed and sleep.
Yamuna treated Rexy like a child. The Navy cooks prepared our meals, but Yamuna always prepared Rexy’s meals by herself and fed her with her hand, like feeding a baby. My late father-in-law used to say we had two children. Ravi Junior was our son and Rexy our daughter. She was a such a lovely daughter.
To be continued …
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