SLNS Nandimithra ,gallant prince of the sea | Sunday Observer

SLNS Nandimithra ,gallant prince of the sea

Fearlessly cruising the ocean at a speed of 28 knots is the pride of the Sri Lanka Naval fleet bearing pennant P-701: fast missile vessel Nandimithra. Made in Israel and commissioned in 2000 this vessel is a floating bastion of firepower with an array of guns. I was able to board this magnificent vessel and witness the disciplined teamwork of her able crew. The ship is commanded by Captain Nishantha Peiris, who counts 27 years of experience. We proceed to the wardroom after walking through a hatch. The wardroom is the place where officers have their meals, and unwind and relax after many hours of duty.

As I look out the porthole (window) the turquoise waters of the ocean remind me that sailing is a unique task. Nandimithra has a battle history laden with many accomplishments at sea according to her skipper Capt. Peiris, who himself is a specialized gunnery officer.

Today the vessel goes out on independent maritime patrols that usually last about 5 to 7 days at sea. The crew maintains an alert watch to thwart non- traditional threats and stop human smuggling, drug trafficking and piracy.

So what does it take to work on a fast missile vessel?

The FMV is smaller in size compared to an OPV (off shore patrol vessel), thus it has confined space and the men live and work as a close fraternity. The vessel has a length of 58 meters and a breadth of 7.62 meters with a displacement of 445 tons. The captain shows me the cabin where he lives: it has space for a bed, washroom and writing desk.

There is no room for fancy living. The cabins of the officers are the same. The crews get used to this and maintain a high morale, not everyone is capable of handling the conditions at sea. This is what makes the crew of a missile boat very unique, their lifestyle is a sacrifice. At present Nandimithra carries 13 officers and 100 sailors. The men work in the following branches that ensure the ship is in peak condition: engineering, navigation, administration, supply & logistics, electronic warfare & weapons.

We walk along narrow corridors and I feel I am in a scene from the World War 2 movie U-571. Sailors are moving back and forth, as the quartermasters’ pipe makes it shrill call rising above the noise of the engines.

The FMV is powered by 4 MTU 16 engines, which propel the vessel to top speed to confront enemy ships or hostile targets. Lt.Cdr. S.M.N. Bandara has a crucial role on this vessel. He is the gunnery officer. As we walk on to the deck level I realize the firepower of this floating armoury.

SLNS Nandimithra is armed with a heavy caliber 76 mm gun, 40mm gun and 14.5 mm guns in addition to other systems. The 76 mm gun is a display of naval engineering. It can “swallow” 40 shells via an ammo feeder (loaded manually by sailors) and delivers a devastating hit that can cripple any target.

Aided by optical directors the ship enhances its visual by a 360 degree spectrum. Radar plotting is another element on deck that charts the ships voyage.

Captain Peiris adds “At sea we constantly engage in various drills, search and rescue, man overboard drill etc”. Maintaining such a high tech vessel is a challenge. Every night the ships executive officer walks around the entire vessel inspecting every compartment, to ensure all is well.

How do the sailors spend a day whilst at sea?

By 6 am all wake up (others are on night watch duty). They muster at 6.15 am and then proceed to shower and eat breakfast. The crew cabins are amusing, with bunk beds suspended at various angles: again not everyone can get used to sleeping in this manner. After this the next stop is the tea break.

On a ship lunch is referred to as dinner (served at 11.30am) and dinner is served to the crew as supper by 1830 hours (6.30pm). Crewmen have free time to chat and watch TV, and its lights out at 2125 hours (9.15pm). The Master at Arms is the man who maintains discipline of all sailors on the vessel. He also acts like a father to junior sailors. There is a mild injury now and then, and sailors have access to medics. The crew has witnessed dolphins and the solitary whale on many of their sea runs.

On this day I was able to witness another naval tradition: a farewell tea party on deck for the crew leaving the vessel. The snacks made at the ships galley (kitchen) were of good standard. Cooking on board a cruising vessel is an art: as the ship will “pitch & roll” with the waves.

As I leave the ship I hear the quartermaster’s pipe, once more. The men of SLNS Nandimithra are a special clan of warriors. It was an honour to be among them.