Remembering Commander Cedric Martenstyn of SBS

Remembering War Heroes on the 30th Anniversary of Sri Lanka Navy Special Boats Squadron - Commander (VNF) Cedric Martenstyn - Co-Founder of SBS

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On the 70th birth anniversary of the co-founder of the Sri Lanka Navy Special Boat Squadron (SBS), the late Commander (VNF) Cedric Martenstyn (NVX 5068), which fell on 5th October 2016, the Sri Lanka Navy renamed their Arrow Boats as "Cedric" in his honor. [ Sri Lanka Navy]

Cedric Martenstyn was a very wealthy and affluent man. He owned a house in Colombo 7, valuable properties throughout the country, vehicles, speedboats, and ran the lucrative business of importing Johnson and Evanrude Outboard Motors (OBM), which he sold to local fishermen and fish businessmen. He was the local agent for these OBMs, and they were a very popular product among the humble fishermen of our country for their reliability and after-sales service. He was fondly known as “Sudu Mahattaya” (White Gentleman) by the humble fishermen. He would travel in his double cab across the length and breadth of the country to meet them, solve their problems with OBMs, and impart valuable knowledge on how to maintain their OBMs well.

He had a loving wife and children. He was an excellent SCUBA diver, a member of the Sri Lanka Navy Practical Pistol Firing team, and his knowledge of wildlife and snakes was amazing. Even though he was a member of the affluent Dutch Burgher community in Sri Lanka, a small community not directly affected by ethnic clashes in our country, he was a true patriot of Mother Lanka who volunteered to protect our country and its people from terrorists. He was an old boy of St. Thomas College, Mr. Lavania, and was an excellent sportsman. The founding father of the Sri Lanka Army Commando Unit, Colonel Sunil Peris, was his classmate at St. Thomas.

I first met him when I was a very junior officer at the Pistol Firing Range at Naval Base Walisara. I helped him catch a poisonous snake in the range. I think he carried that snake home in a bottle! That was Cedric!

We became very close friends as we both loved “Guns and fishing rods.” His experience and tactics in angling helped me catch much bigger Paraw (Trevallies) in the Elephant Rock area at Trincomalee harbor. He was a dangerous man to live with at Trincomalee Naval Base Ward Room (Officers’ Mess) because he had various live snakes kept in bottles and fed them with little frogs!

Even though he was a keen angler, he was also a dedicated conservationist, focused on preserving endangered species both on land and in water. He spent days in Horton Plains and Knuckles Mountain Range streams identifying freshwater species in Sri Lanka. Did you know there is an endangered freshwater fish species named after him that he found in Horton Plains and Knuckles Mountain Range? This was done as an honor to his work after he was considered Missing in Action (MIA).

Commander (VNF) Cedric Martenstyn

Feeding time for snakes was always an amusement for our stewards at the Wardroom at that time. They would all gather and watch carefully what Cedric was doing, keeping a safe distance in case a snake escaped. Our Navy stewards were so cautious that they wouldn’t even enter Cedric’s cabin (room) at Trincomalee Wardroom (Officers’ Mess), opting to place his tea on a stool outside his cabin door. One day, pandemonium erupted at the Officers’ Mess when Cedric announced that one snake had escaped from captivity. We never found that snake, but that incident marked the end of his hobby, as the Commander of the Eastern Naval Area at that time ordered, “Get rid of all snakes! No more snakes in the Wardroom!” Sadly, Cedric released all the snakes to Sober Island that afternoon. Our stewards were the happiest that day! THOSE WERE THE DAYS WITH DEAR CEDRIC!

He was a volunteer Navy officer, but he joined me (he was 47 years old then) to help SBS trainees (the first and second batch) in boat handling and OBM maintenance in 1993 when I raised SBS. It was exactly 30 years ago!

Being an excellent speedboat race driver and boat designer, he drew the blueprint for the first “18-foot Arrow Boat” and supervised its construction at a private boatyard in 1993. This 18-foot Arrow boat was specially designed for use in the shallow waters of Jaffna Lagoon, fitted with 115 HP OBMs and equipped with two recommended weapons: a 40mm Automatic Grenade Launcher (AGL) and 7.62×51 mm General Purpose Machine Guns (MPMGs). Highly trained and highly motivated four SBS men were on board each Arrow boat in Jaffna Lagoon.

The same hull (deep V hull) was developed during the tenure of Admiral of the Fleet Wasantha Karannagoda as the Commander of the Navy. Naval architects, using knowledge gained from captured LTTE Sea Tiger boats, designed 23-foot Arrow boats and implemented the “Lanchester Theory” (the theory of the battle of attrition at sea in littoral sea battles) to completely nullify the LTTE’s superiority with small boats and deadly suicide boats. Thanks to Admiral of the Fleet for understanding the importance of Arrow boat design and mass production at our own boatyard at Walisara. Admiral of the Fleet, under whom I was fortunate to serve as Director Naval Operations, Director Maritime Surveillance, and Director Naval Special Forces during the last stages (2006/7) of the Humanitarian Operations, always used to tell us, “You cannot buy a Navy; you have to build one!” Thank you, Sir!

Back to the main story… When I was selected for my Naval War Course (Staff Course) at Pakistan Navy Staff College in Karachi (now known as Pakistan Navy War College, relocated to Lahore), Pakistan, Cedric took over the command (even though he was a VNF officer) as Commanding Officer of SBS. Being one of the co-founders of this elite unit, he was the most suitable person to take over as CO of SBS.

He was loved by SBS officers and sailors. They were extremely happy to see him at Kilali or Elephant Pass, where SBS was deployed during a very difficult time in our recent history—fighting against terrorists in 1996/7.

Motivated by his father’s patriotism, his younger son, Jayson, who was a pilot working in the UK at that time, came to Sri Lanka and joined SLAF as a volunteer pilot to fly transport aircraft and maintain an uninterrupted air link between Palaly (Jaffna) and Rathmalana (Colombo). Sometimes Jayson flew his beloved father on board from Palaly to Rathmalana. Cedric was extremely happy and proud of his son. Young Jayson died in a possible LTTE Surface-to-Air missile attack on his aircraft. Cedric was sad but more determined in the fight against LTTE terrorists.

Then the Navy Commander advised him to demobilize from VNF and look after his grieving family or join the Naval Operations Directorate and work from Colombo, but he vehemently refused. When I called him from Pakistan to convey my deepest condolences, he said he would look after the SBS boys and had no intention of leaving them in this difficult hour for our nation. Such a HERO, VERY FEW KNEW ABOUT!

Due to the age difference, young officers and sailors in SBS were of the same age as his two sons.

Sadly, Cedric was also considered Missing In Action (MIA) in a helicopter crash off the seas of Vettalikani with Lt. Palihena, another brave SBS officer from the KDU intake. He was returning to Point Pedro after visiting SBS boys at Elephant Pass, Jaffna.

Cedric and Jayson go down in our history as a few father and son duos who paid the Supreme Sacrifice for the Motherland. MAY THEY 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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