Drama in the high seas Navy in jumbo rescue operation
BY PANCHAMEE HEWAVISSENTI
The Sri Lanka Navy broke into the limelight after a drama in the high seas to rescue an elephant that had been swept away by strong currents off the coast in Kokilai, Mullaithivu on Tuesday. Some 100 naval personnel were pressed into the rescue operation that lasted 10 hours before the elephant could be plucked out from a watery grave.
Lt. Commander Dhanusha Chinthaka Perera and his men were on a routine patrol on the watch for foreign poachers, illegal fishing activities and on alert for any distress call on 11 July.
Approximately around 18 kilometres off the coast, the scout officers on the patrol boat had caught the sight of a large object floating in the sea around 9.10 a.m. and the Officer- In- Charge Lt. Commander D. C. Perera was instantly informed.
"Initially we thought it to be a whale as they are prevalent in the area. However, as we approached the moving object that was wobbling in an unusual manner we were confronted with an elephant that was waddling and splashing around in the water", said OIC Perera.
When the team approached the animal, they found to their amazement that it wasn't a marine specie but an elephant that had been swept into the sea of 300 metres in depth.
Commander Perera then notified the finding to the Eastern Naval Command and received instructions to rescue the animal without causing any hurt to it. "The sea condition at that time was windy with a slight drizzle.
The wind was blowing inwards towards the ocean and the animal was being dragged away further towards the deep sea by the strong currents," Perera added. The OIC later called on for additional manpower and more equipment as the strength on board the vessel was insufficient.
"We attempted to stop the animal from being further swept away into the sea until we received reinforcements and used the naval boat to block it from moving away. We threw in a rope towards the elephant with the hope it would get hold of it with its trunk. It did not happen as expected.
Later the naval officers signaled to a dinghy that was occupied by a few fishermen. Three naval officers got into the dinghy to tie a rope around the elephant's neck. The attempt was futile but the naval officers continued with their efforts.
After spending about one and a half hours the naval personnel were finally able to secure the rope around the elephant's neck.
"We later towed the animal towards the shore in a tender and slow manner because any careless handling would hurt the animal.
During the process the elephant would raise its trunk every now and then to breathe," remarked OIC Perera.
The team moved up steadily towards the shore with the elephant against sturdy currents that pulled the animal backwards. "It was around 1.30 in the afternoon when the Navy diving crew arrived at the spot to assist us. They managed to fasten the rope around the body of the elephant in a more systematic and least harmful manner."
The diving crew was able to fasten the rope robustly around the elephant after a laborious effort amidst powerful resistance from the animal that was annoyed, and tensed. The only place that the rope could be fastened is around the belly of the elephant as its legs should be free for it to move up through water.
The diving crew had crept under the belly and had also mounted on its back and this had further agitated the already irritated elephant.
Although the elephant had attacked the crew members, no officer sustained any injuries. As the rope was fastened technically and appropriately by the diving crew, the elephant was dragged towards the shore more speedily.
"We had already informed the Wildlife officials of the incident. Wildlife officers and a doctor arrived on the shore to inspect animal.
They confirmed that animal was in sound health and requested us to drive the elephant towards the Yan Oya area once it is taken ashore", OIC Perera further said.
It was around 7.30 in the evening when the Navy managed to bring the animal to the shallow water area. As the Dovra could not be operated in the shallow waters, the rope of the animal was then tied to a smaller Navy boat and dragged to the shore. The time was around 9.30 p.m., he said.
On reaching the shore the rope was released from the elephant which later darted towards the Yan Oya forest area.
OIC Perera told Ceylon Today that over 100 Navy officers were involved in the rescue mission that took around 12 hours to complete.
The Navy's P 465 and P 485 boats were deployed in the mission with Lt. Commander Dhanusha Perera and Lieutenant S. G. M. Madhuwantha in charge of the operation. The diving crew operated in a P 422 boat.
The team launched the mission under the command of Rear Admiral T. J. L. Sinnaiya. The Commanding Officer the FAF4 was Captain Udaya Kumara.
Although the Sri Lanka Navy had rescued animals in the past at sea, this however was the first time that such a huge effort was taken to rescue an animal from such a long distance in the ocean, Perera said.
However, it is uncertain as to how the animal covered such a long distance into the sea amidst speculation that it had entered the ocean for a splash and was later swept into deeper waters by strong currents, according to OIC Perera.
"It seemed the animal had been swept away into the sea the previous day and was battling the strong currents for survival. The elephant was not hurt but there were signs of fatigue", he said.
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