Sri Lanka: Remembering a True Naval Son

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Sri Lankan Navy personnel conduct a gun salute for the 75th Independence Day in Sri Lanka [ Photo: Thilina Kaluthotage]

Today is Sunday, April 21, 2024. Five years ago on April 21, 2019, Easter Sunday was observed. The SLCG Ship Suraksha, a 100-meter-long Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV), was preparing for a 14-day patrol. Its tanks were filled with fuel, and all provisions necessary for its crew of 10 officers and 100 men for 14 days were loaded. Both cold and cool rooms were stocked with fresh fish, meat, and vegetables. The ship was scheduled to sail at 12 noon on April 21, 2019.

A young lieutenant on board, who had recently assumed the role of assistant logistics officer, was diligently at work. It was a new appointment for him, on a new ship, surrounded by new friends and crew. Eager to make a positive impression, he found himself faced with a dilemma when his mother called around 7 AM to inform him they were on their way to the village Church in Kochikade, Negombo. He hailed from a devout Catholic family and realized he would miss Easter Sunday Mass.

Quickly, he formulated a plan. He approached the Commanding Officer’s cabin and knocked gently. “Yes,” the Commanding Officer responded, and upon entering, the young lieutenant explained his predicament. The Commanding Officer, a decorated former Naval Special Forces Captain, possessed both bravery and compassion. Recognizing the significance of Easter Sunday to his subordinate, he granted permission for him to attend church.

Moreover, he shared a tradition with the young officer—the custom of lighting a candle at St. Anthony Church in Kochikade before embarking on sea duty. St. Anthony, the patron saint of seafarers, was invoked by naval officers for centuries for protection and guidance. With a reminder to return by 11 AM, the young lieutenant hurriedly changed into civilian attire and set off for church in the ship’s vehicle.

Arriving at the church, he found himself surrounded by a congregation eagerly awaiting Mass. Despite initially planning a quick visit, he decided to stay for the Tamil Mass, given his proficiency in the language. Tragically, at 8:45 AM, a suicide bomber entered the church and detonated explosives.

Sugath Nadeeshan Silva

Chaos ensued, and news of the blast reached the Naval Base. The Commanding Officer of the SLCG Ship Suraksha, aware that his subordinate was in attendance, frantically attempted to contact him. After multiple unsuccessful attempts, a call was finally answered—not by the lieutenant, but by a nurse from the Accident Ward of General Hospital Colombo, delivering the devastating news of his death.

Overwhelmed with grief, the Commanding Officer lamented his decision to allow the young officer to attend church, questioning why fate had dealt such a cruel blow.

This is the poignant tale of Lieutenant (S) Sugath Nadeeshan Silva, born in Kochikade, Negombo on November 23, 1991. He was the second son of his family and received his education at Thoppuwa St. Philip Nari Sinhala Mixed School, Kochikade, and Mari Stella College, Negombo. Excelling in both academics and sports, he joined the Sir John Kotalawala University as an Officer Cadet on September 17, 2012.

Sugath’s passion for cricket was matched by his dedication to his studies. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Logistics Management from KDU in 2016 and completed the Sub Lieutenant Logistics course at the Naval and Maritime Academy, Trincomalee. Tragically, his promising career was cut short by the terrorist attack that claimed his life aboard the SLCG Ship Suraksha. He was posthumously promoted to Lieutenant Commander and laid to rest with full military honors.

As the sun sets and rises, let us remember him in our prayers. May he rest in peace

Ravindra C Wijegunaratne

Retired Admiral Ravindra C Wijegunaratne, former Chief of Defence Staff of the Sri Lanka Navy, currently serves as the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to Pakistan, following his tenure as Managing Director of Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and Chairman of Trincomalee Petroleum Terminals Ltd.

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