The man who stood up for Sri
Lieutenant Commander Lalith Prasanna Edirisinghe
decided to make the ultimate sacrifice to stop the big suicide boat
going for the passenger ship.
This is a story that proves the charisma of the men in blues; the Officers
and men of the Sri Lanka Navys premier fighting force, the Fourth
Fast Attack Craft(FAC) Flotilla which is based in Trincomalee.
One of the Officers who was commanding one of these top of the line
FACs, was Lieutenant Commander Ediripulige Lalith Prasanna Edirisinghe.
A seemingly calm & quiet character, married and with two very young
children, he had all the reasons to live than risking his life in a
highly demanding environment where National security has gone to dogs
due to foreign advice and pressure made possible by corruption, incompetence,
and lack of action by the authorities.
Being the Officer-In-Command of P 418, a Colombo Dockyard built FAC,
he was responsible for the lives of 18 men; His decision was sure to
affect the fate of the other FACs whose lives depended on eachother.
On 11th May 2006, P 418 was assigned to patrol the seas off terrorists
dominated coastline Chalai in the North-eastern coast of Sri Lanka.
His crew comprised of 18 men, including one Signalman from Sri Lanka
Army. His Third-In-Command, Sub Liuetenant Dinesh Harshjeewa Rathnayake
was a batchtop cadet who was trained in Britannia Royal Naval College,
Dratmouth UK. He was by his side when they sensed that the terrorists
were up to something.
The terrorists, LTTE sea tigers were observed to be gathering off the
coastline of Vettalaikerni, a fishing village at the coastline since
mid afternoon by the patrolling FACs. They observed terrorists fibre
glass boats fitted with medium calibre weapons and lethal weapons gathering
very close to the coastline about 50-100 meters from the shoreline and
also the presence of at least four suicide craft. The suicide craft
distinguishable from their features had been the most lethal weapon
terrorists used and Navy have good experience in encountering them in
Since terrorists intentions were hostile, the patrolling FACs requested
re-enforcements and another two FACS arrived at the location. Having
assessed the tactical picture they decided to form a barrier at a distance
of 5 Nautical miles from land since Passenger Vessel Pearl Cruise was
on the way from Trincomalee with 710 Service, Police personnel and few
civilians. This vessel sails almost on daily basis, transporting Service
personnel from Kankasanthurai to Trincomalee and back. The vessel was
escorted by another two FACs and one Fast Gun Boat. They were about
25 miles from the terrorists gathering which by now has increased to
16 attack craft and 4 suicide boats.
FACs could only observe the gathering and report since attacking the
terrorists boats at that close to shoreline could hurt innocent fishing
folks of the fishing hamlets along the coastline. SL Navy men has to
look after all Sri Lankans.
It was the terrorists that made the first move by speeding towards
the passenger vessel. Having realised the gravity of the situation the
four FACs singlehandedly decided to confront the terrorists without
waiting for further re-enforcements. Against overwhelming numbers of
terrorist boats fitted with wide variety of weapons such as 23mm, 14.5mm
and supported by terroristss never-to-operate-without suicide
boats, the balance of power favoured the terrorists.
Undeterred men in blues took up their position, donned their body armours
and allowed terrorists to come away from land. One of the FACs, P 497
commanded by Lieutenant Lakshitha Rathnathilake reported over the radio
that whilst increasing to combat speed one of his main engines had stopped.
Senior most officer on the scene. Commander Lalith Prasanna Edirisinghe
who was just 1500m away from his troubled buddy promptly responded and
manoeuvred his craft between the approaching cluster of terrorist boats
and the troubled P 497. Proving his valour and outstanding officer qualities
he engaged the terrorists cluster in order to give time for his buddy
to get the engine re-started.
Having done the re-starting well under two minutes, Lakshitha Rathnathilake
informed his superior officer, Lalith Edirisinghe that he is ready once
again. By this time Lalith Edirisinghe has spotted the unusually big
suicide boat coming out with the terrorists cluster. With his experience
he knew what the big suicide boat was for.
Whilst Lakshitha Rathnathilake was pulling out, he observed that his
senior officer was heading straight to this large suicide boatwhile
avoiding several terrorists attack crafts. Before he could speak over
the radio, there was a cracking in the communication set and with that
a huge explosion was observed at some 1500m away from him. As the smoke
cleared he could not see P 418, not even the wreck.
It was Lalith Edirisinghe, being the senior officer in the theatre
of operation, took charge of the developing situation and decided to
sacrifice his life and the 18 of his men in order to ensure that the
Pearl Cruise with 710 lives is safe.
Although out numbered heavily; 20 terrorists boats against 4 FACs,
the chances of terrorists slipping through the Navy boats was high.
He had made the decision that saved the lives of 710 men at the risk
of crew of FAC. His parting instructions to other two FACs was to engage
and stop the terrorists dash to Pearl Cruise. And the two FACs did exactly
Many Lankan movie directors and actors have gladly and foolishly accepted
foreign-funded opportunities to portray nations defence force
heroes as useless cowards in many movies. The statement of the SLMM
representative onboard P 421, Mr Lars Bleymann commending the outstanding
performances of Lieutenant Ranjith Walgampaya and his crew is a living
testimony to the fighting bravery of the men in blues. Undeterred by
over whelming numbers Ranjith Walgampaya & Lieutenant Arunashantha
Wijayawardena blocked the advancing terrorists clusters by repeatedly
engaging terrorists whilst mutually covering each other.
Sooner they heard the cracking voice informing that Lalith Edirisinghes
boat had come under a suicide attack they altered to the explosion site
in order to hit terrorists and recover own personnel if any is in water.
However Lalith edirisinghes boat had sunk without a trace of any
survivors. Quickly they focussed on their mission, although having experienced
a devastating loss, time was not for grieving and lamenting, and the
terrorists still could regroup and push for their target.
However terrorists seems to be reluctant to press further despite the
presence of the three smaller suicide boats. Three remaining FACs placed
a barrier line and waited to terrorists to advance but terrorists seems
to be bewildered and unsure what to do after losing the large suicide
boat which was to hit the passenger ship.
Meantime further reinforcements were speeding to the area from Kankasanthurai
port and Trincomalee. Air force has taken to wings and safety of Pearl
Cruise was enhanced. The first priority was the passengers, and further
offensive action with three FACs was considered tactically disadvantageous.
However by the time passengers were safely disembarked at Kankasanthurai
port, the terrorists had retreated to their stronghold on the coast.
Retreating terrorists were repeatedly engaged by Air force causing fairly
high casualty to terrorists.
Another remarkable story unfolded onboard the passenger vessel Pearl
Cruise. The Naval officer acting as the Liaison Officer onboard was
listening to all the communication over the radio and he quickly closed
the air tight doors so the passengers could not hear what was told over
the radio. Then he placed the handful number of naval personnel of the
security detail around the weather deck of the ferry without arousing
suspicion of the passengers. No passenger knew about the unfolding situation
outside and when the ferry was secured safely at the harbour just before
they get down, the Officer, over the public address system onboard made
the announcement that Navy had sacrificed 18 lives to save 710 lives
and narrated the terrorists confrontation. It was reported that the
passengers were stunned to hear the story and praised the men who gave
not only their lives and their future, but also the future and the happiness
of their loved ones, for them and also the Liaison Officer for his calmness
and decision not to inform which obviously could have created a pandemonium