Sri Lanka Navy's (SLN) latest mission to thwart LTTE arms smuggling will no doubt be recorded as one of the most successful Naval missions of all time. This is not only because the mission caused the destruction of 3 large LTTE vessels in less than 24 hours but also because it demonstrated SLN warship fleet's ability to engage in deep sea missions.
Image: SLNS Sayura Offshore Patrol vessel
Naval intelligence had previously collected information about 4 LTTE arms vessels which were bound to Sri Lanka. Their destinations were Mullaithiv, Challei, Alampil and Chundikual beaches. However the tigers had devised a new plan to avoid detection. The large vessels full of weapons were never to be beached. They were to stay in deep seas acting as floating warehouses while LTTE cadres used smaller craft such as fishing trawlers to smuggle the weapons in to their territory. This method not only reduced risk of detection but it also acted as a damage control mechanism; If a trawler was hit, only a small portion of the cargo would be destroyed. The rest would be safe in the main vessel. Unfortunately for the tigers, locations of the floating warehouses were picked up by naval intelligence.
Following the intel warning, SLN command dispatched four warships to investigate the targets. These were SLNS (Sri Lanka Navy Ship) Sayura, SLNS Samudura, SLNS Suranimala and SLNS Shakthi. One highly trained Special Boat Squadron (SBS) attack team was on board each of the four ships. Their mission was to board the enemy vessels and take control if the sea tigers surrendered. Two supply ships (A520 and A521) were sent to resupply the warships if needed.
Although the intel information was correct, it took 10 days to find the first LTTE vessel. The detection was made in international waters 1200Km away from Colombo. LTTE's 50 meter long Manyoshi vessel was surrounded by two SLN warships. However the vessel opened fire on SLN ships using 5.0mm (commonly known as "five zero") weapons and tried to flee when they were asked to identify themselves. Manyoshi was sunk on 10th of September at 10.30 am local time.
The second ship too was detected in the same area several hours later. 50 meter long Sishin was discovered by the other two SLN warships. It too tried to flee and was sunk in the battle on 10th of September at 5.30pm.
3rd LTTE arms vessel was discovered 80km off the location where the second vessel was sunk. By this time, the two warships that destroyed Manyoshi had joined the rest. LTTE's 70 meter long Koshia arms vessel was now surrounded by four SLN warships. By this time, naval intelligence picked up a message to Koshiya from Wanni command. Message sender was Chelian; LTTE's new sea tiger leader. LTTE cadres on board the Koshiya were instructed to fire at SLN warships using 3 heavy 120mm mortars on board the ship. After firing several rounds, sea tigers reported back to their leader that it was impossible to get a clear target because of the rough seas. They were then ordered by Chelian to commit suicide and avoid capture. Koshiya too was sunk when it was hit by 76mm, 37mm, 30mm 25mm and 23mm cannon fire from SLN warships.
If the LTTE had the chance to upload the cargo on these ships, it would have been devastating for the army. On board were a large amount of 120, 122mm, 130mm and 152mm artillery shells, a fast attack craft of unknown type, a bulletproof vehicle, engine and spare parts for 3 light planes and a large collection of various weapons and ammunition including even torpedoes.
Meanwhile military intelligence has confirmed that a 4th LTTE arms ship bound to Mullaithiv had fled after the destruction of the first 3 ships.