Colombo, 27 April: The Sri Lankan Navy has positioned a large number of its ships as part of a naval blockade off the North-Eastern part of the island, but one ship with a marked record for action against LTTE freight vessels and Sea Tiger craft is missing in action. The SLNS Sagara, an offshore patrol vessel leased to the Lankans by the Indian Coast Guard a few years ago, sits docked at Colombo harbour.
The Sagara is ostensibly missing in action as a result of routine maintenance, though at least one naval official hinted at an altogether more dramatic likelihood that the Indian government may have set down fresh restrictions on its use for offensive purposes during the current round of operations. Another former Indian-operated ship, the much larger SLNS Sayura, is very much a part of the current offshore blockade, though the fact that this particular vessel was sold to the Sri Lankans, rather than leased like the Sagara, precludes any operational restrictions from the Indian side. No official comment was forthcoming on this particular possibility.
As it happens, the Sagara is looked upon here as a vanguard for anti-LTTE operations at sea. The warship made its mark by sinking what the navy says was a 3000-ton LTTE arms freighter about 1,700-km south of the island in October 2007. The ship, formerly the Indian Coast Guard’s CGS Varaha, was leased as a goodwill gesture to the Sri Lankan Navy in February 2007. Just months later, the warship had its trial by fire – it was deployed as part of a three-vessel task force off Dondra Point, the island’s southernmost tip, to intercept and sink the suspected gun-running vessel identified as Matsushima.
Commissioned in 1992, sources here said that the warship had a lot of opportunities to exercise its lethal 30-mm deck canon and 7.62-mm machine guns.
Although the Indian Navy is making no overt deployments in support of Sri Lanka’s maritime blockade, top officials confirmed that it is aiding the island nation’s forces with additional maritime surveillance from aircraft and helicopters, and warships – both offensive and humanitarian relief bearing – on standby. In addition, it is also understood that the Indian Navy has activated its squadron of unmanned surveillance drones in Kerala to aid the overall reconnaissance effort being undertaken by the Sri Lankan Air Force. Obviously as a result of political compulsions, no support from the Indian military at this stage is in any way explicit, though both the Indian Navy and IAF are part of direct humanitarian.