7th November 1999
It may not be as exciting as what you see in Baywatch but our own Coastguard Unit is getting ready for more action along the coastline
By Udena. R.Attygalle
Sri Lanka's own Coast guard unit or Police Marine Division as it is called, though nothing like the American movie images of a daring, high-tech rescue outfit, is planning to expand. Although it has no helicopters, jet scooters, inflatable boats or tugs, the unit has started policing our 825 odd miles of coastline.
The Marine Division was officially launched on August 26 last year. Till then patrolling and other duties were done by a small craft unit of the Harbour Police.
Functioning with just five powerful custom-made dual engine boats the Marine Division has a big job to do with limited resources. At present the western and southern coast from Wadduwa to Hikkaduwa is patrolled by this group comprising 38 policemen. They are all expert swimmers trained in both life-saving and diving.
While two boats are stationed at the Colombo harbour, another two are moored on the Beira Lake and the other is at Beruwela.
OIC of the Division, former Sri Lanka's swimming captain, Chief Inspector Dammika Dayananda explained that the boat at Beruwela patrols northwards towards Wadduwa and southward towards Hikkaduwa while the two boats in Colombo cover the area upto Moratuwa.
The patrols function within a belt of 400 yards to 1 1/2 km from the coast. Each boat is assigned two short and three long patrols weekly, which may include night patrols. The high security coastal belt from Fort to Kollupitiya with many important buildings nearby has warranted this special security measure.
The boats stationed at the Beira Lake patrol the waters of the lake mostly at night. These patrols are meant to provide protection to President's House and other important locations in the city.
The unit hopes to establish bases at all the major fishing harbours namely Kalpitiya, Galle, Mirissa, Devinuwara, Tangalle, Kirinda, Valaichchennai, Codbay, Mannar and Myliddy.
SP M. L. Agunawella, the Commandant of the Police Marine Division explaining the need for a police presence in fisheries harbours said there were constant clashes between fishermen in mid-sea over territory. Many cases of theft of valuable fishing gear like nets and even outboard motors, were also reported, he said. There are also sea pirates operating in the coastal waters off Negombo and Ja-Ela, who rob fishing boats and their crew of all valuables.
Meanwhile, Manager Projects, Operations and Engineering of the Ceylon Fisheries Harbour Corporation Frank Perera recalled a recent incident when fishermen in a small boat had reported that they had been boarded by the armed crew of a large trawler. The Fisheries Harbour Corporation will be working with the Police to establish units in the fisheries harbours. Frank, who had earlier worked in the Royal Oman Coastguard stressed the importance of a good coastguard unit for the country. The Oman coastguard, he recalled, had started with just one boat but soon graduated into a full-blown unit with even a helicopter and tugs for clearing oil slicks. The Sri Lanka Unit at present has no environmental functions.
"The division also plans to help out in providing a life saving service in inland reservoirs," OIC Dayananda said.
The unit is even ready to provide training for interested parties. The Police Marine Division functions under the supervision of I.G.P Lucky Kodittuwakku, senior DIG Merril Gunerathne and DIG N.B. Jayasundera.
Strong coastguard needed
The case of Frenchman Loeffel Cique who on October 18 landed illegally on the Dickwella coast highlights the need for a strong coast guard. The Frenchman on a voyage from France had set sail from Papua New Guinea towards India. The boat had broken down halfway and had forced him to land at the Nilwella fisheries harbour in Dickwella, despite not having permission from the relevant authorities. He was subsequently arrested in Matara and later provided with a month's visa.
Coastguard units in developed countries provide a valuable service in the implementation of maritime law enforcement, maritime environmental protection and maritime safety.
In the United States those interested in following a coast guard career can actually attend an academy. Called the U.S Coastguard Academy it is situated in New London, Connecticut. The US coastguard also provides public education classes on topics like boating safety and seamanship. Civilians too help out by providing assistance when necessary.
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