Northern Naval Chief transferred

Four unarmed men disappeared on March 29 as the junior officer in charge of an isolated detachment on Vadamaratchchy coast watched the semi-final between Sri Lanka and New Zealand played in Colombo.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Commander Northern Naval Area Rear Admiral S. M. B. Weesekara has been transferred to the Volunteer Naval Force consequent to the mysterious disappearance of four naval personnel from SLN detachment at Chundikulam on the Vadamaratchchy coast on March 29 evening.

Rear Admiral Weerasekara has been appointed as the Commandant of the Volunteer Naval Force, a position especially created to accommodate the veteran.

The detachment at Chundikulam comes under the purview of Commander Northern Naval Area. At the time of the disappearance, Rear Admiral Weerasekara had been on leave.

Sources say that navy headquarters has relieved Rear Admiral Weerasekera from the post of Deputy Chief of Staff while transferring him from a key operational command to the Volunteer naval Force, hitherto commanded by an officer holding the rank of Captain. Before the recent development, Captain Herath Banda has been the senior officer in charge of the 5,000 strong Volunteer Naval Force.

Responding to a query by The Island, sources said that now both posts of Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff would have to be filled, since the former Chief of Staff, the then Rear Admiral D. W. A. S. Dissanayake succeeded navy Commander Vice Admiral T. S. G. Samarasinghe on January 15, 2011.

Messrs Dissanayake (Commander North) and Weerasekara (Commander East) spearheaded successful naval operations until the conclusion of eelam war IV in May 2009, sources said.

Rear Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne succeeded Rear Admiral Weerasekara as Commander Northern Naval Area. Rear Admiral Wijegunaratne had played an important role in the war against the LTTE.

Meanwhile a group of navy officers, appointed by navy Chief D. W. A. S. Dissanayake to investigate the disappearance of four personnel, recently visited the Chundikulam detachment. The senior officer in charge of the detachment, holding the rank of Lieutenant, has been detained. Sources said that depending on the findings by the investigating team, navy headquarters would take further action.

The missing men are believed to have launched a dinghy in the late afternoon of March 29 and investigators are trying to establish the circumstances under which they went out to sea.

Although the SLN had recovered the boat and its outboard motor washed ashore within 24 hours of the disappearance, the four men remain listed as missing.

Sources said that authorities were trying to ascertain whether the unarmed naval personnel had steered their boat in the direction of a cluster of Indian fishing craft poaching off Chundikulam.

The boat they used was an ordinary fibre glass dinghy used by fishermen and not a regular SLN small craft.

The possibility of the SLN group confronting Indian fishermen couldn’t be ruled out, sources said and all possibilities are being investigated with the Indian naval and coast guard authorities alerted about the disappearance. There hadn’t been a similar disappearance involving the SLN during the entire war, sources said.

Sources ruled out the possibility of the missing men boarding a ship or a large trawler carrying would-be refugees trying to reach Australia or the West.

The disappearance is reported in the wake of a simmering dispute between Sri Lanka and India over the Tamil Nadu fishing fleet poaching in SL waters, particularly carrying out ‘bottom trawling’, an illegal fishing method, which the industry sources said was extremely harmful.

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