The Kokilai encounter | Sunday Observer

The Kokilai encounter

The diving crew bringing the confused elephant to safety
The diving crew bringing the confused elephant to safety

A Fast Attack Craft (FAC) attached to Eastern Naval Command; Trincomalee was engaged on her routine patrol 11 nautical miles off the coast near Kokkuthuduwai.

At 0900 hours the skipper of P-465 Lt. Cdr. Chinthaka Perera was alerted by an excited sailor stationed at the lookout post, about the bearings of a large unidentified black object, at a distance.

Mild spray of water

The object could not be ascertained by radar. As the vessel cautiously navigated towards the object, the initial reaction was that they had spotted a whale, as there was a mild spray of water.

A few seconds later, they were stunned to realize it was an elephant. Naval crews would never imagine seeing a jumbo at sea!!

Realizing that the animal was in great danger of drowning P- 465 dispatched a message to the duty officer at Eastern Naval Command.

Within seconds “COMMEAST” (Commander Eastern Naval Area), Rear Admiral Travis Sinniah, was informed of this rather bizarre scenario unfolding at sea, which by now was mildly turbulent with rain.

Orders were relayed back to P-465 to initiate an immediate rescue. A second vessel P- 485 was ordered to sail to the location.

Meanwhile, Lt.Cdr Perera and his crew were making a temporary harness with heavy ropes, to try and see if the stranded pachyderm would be able to grasp the rope using his trunk.

The skipper said, “We had to approach the elephant carefully, as we have no idea of his behaviour. We are trained to rescue fishermen stranded at sea. As the animal was in danger of drowning we did not want to cause any further panic by startling him.”

The elephant could get startled by the engines of the vessel.

With time ticking away, Eastern Naval Command had dispatched two Cedric Boats to sea.

One boat had a diving crew under the command of Lt. Buddhika and the other boat carried members from the Rapid Action Boat Squadron, better known as RABS.

The poor elephant was now very tired but maintained his fight to survive.

The diving crew cautiously entered the water; even they had never been exposed to such a strange emergency.

The elephant finally realized that the sailors meant him no harm, and a thick rope was used to gently secure the animal. The wind now began to lash out, adding pressure on the crew. P-465 began her journey towards shore with the Cedric boats sailing on either side monitoring the status of their “wild friend” who was being towed.

Lt. Cdr. Perera recalled, “As we got within sight of shore, we could not proceed as the depth was not enough for our vessel, so we had to transfer the ropes to the 2 Cedric boats’.

Confused elephant

The diving teams carefully completed the final phase of this amazing marine rescue, bringing the confused elephant to safety. The Ops Room of Eastern Command was in jubilant mood to realize that the mission was a success.

On reaching land the jumbo was handed over to officers of the Wildlife Department, who had been waiting in earnest. This team managed to assist the animal and ensure his well being.

Thus, the officers and sailors of Sri Lanka Navy vessels P-465, P-422 and P-485 displayed their high level of sea endurance training, teamwork, precise navigation and compassion in saving the life of a wild elephant.