Outgoing Navy Commander Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe:
Training and professionalism took him to the top
Quality training and professionalism were the key factors behind
Admiral Thisara Samrasinghes’s success during his Naval career to reach
the highest rung in the Sri Lanka Navy as the 16th Commander and to
retire as an Admiral completing 36 and a half years of service. His
contribution to fight LTTE arms smuggling in international waters put
the Sri Lanka Navy on a pedestal, globally.
He was always sought for critical appointments in the Navy due to his
operational commitment and the vision he had to make things happen. The
experience he gained as the Commander of the Northern and Eastern Naval
areas during the most critical period of the country paved way for him
to reach the top.
“More than anything I have achieved I value the respect and honour
received from my subordinates and also from my superiors said”, the
outgoing Navy Commander in an exclusive interview with the Sunday
“You become the Navy Commander not the day you become the Navy
Commander, you become the Navy Commander on the day you leave the Navy,
you become the Navy Commander if you have lived upto the Navy’s
Command”, he says.
Following are the excerpts of the interview:
Q: You are to retire from the Sri Lanka Navy after serving it
for 36 and half years. What made you join it?
A: I started my career as a Naval officer not that I wanted to
be in the Navy in particular but because the Navy selected me following
my career at Royal College with achievements in sports and cadeting. I
reached the top in the Cadet Corps by becoming the RSM. That achievement
encouraged me to seek a military career. It was the Navy who selected me
and I was not particulary keen to join the Navy. I was more Army
oriented. But the Navy selected me first.
Q: You have set records here and abroad when you were
undergoing training during your Naval career. How do you recall them?
A: When I joined the Navy the competition was stiff I got to
the top of the batch and was selected to the Dartmouth Naval and
Maritime Academy, UK. At Dartmouth also I had stiff competition and got
to the top of the batch. I still hold the record where I was given a
prestigious appointment being a foreigner. I achieved these because I
was an all rounder.
Then I went to India and the United States for mid career courses.
There too I topped the batch competing with 30 other foreigners who had
completed their staff courses. I went to US without my staff course. I
had to compete with countries like Australia, Japan and Korea.
My specialisation was in India on navigation at the National Defence
College, Delhi in 2005. The training was the base for my appointments.
My thesis ‘The Strategy to Defeat Maritime Terrorism’ competed with 91
Brigadiers and Generals and won. My background in the operation
directorate from 1997 onwards helped.
Q: What were your key responsibilities prior to your
appointment as Navy Commander?
A: I first commanded a short patrol craft in 1981. I served in
gun boats, and the fast attack craft squadron in 1985. I served and
commanded fast gun boats in the surveillance zone in the North. My sea
time was in the North and the East, never in the West or the South. The
sea experience dealing with maritime terrorism was the core. On land I
commanded the operational bases Elara in Jaffna.
I trained many. They are knocking at the door of becoming Admirals. I
was the Training Commander at the Academy and the Commandant of the
Recruit Training Centre. In Colombo I served at the headquarters and in
the South as Commandant and Area Commander. From 1997 to 2000 I handled
operations as the Deputy Director of Operations.
Q: What was the most important and critical period of your
A: The 2006 - 2009 period which was the most critical period of the
country. Many governments and militaries had tried to win over terrorism
for over 25 years with no success due to act of efficiency and
leadership. The Secretary’s leadership in stratergising and coordinating
the military to see that the HE’s vision was fulfilled was a key issue.
Q: How did you contribute to the humanitarian operation?
A: The Commander decided I should be Director General
Operations in 2005 although there were others senior to me. I had to see
that the military directives of the Commander were executed. In 2006 I
was sent to the East. The strategy was planned to search for the LTTE
floating warehouses operating far away from our shores. It was
vulnerable and I was in control of the coast line upto Pulmudai. We were
in control of Muttur and Kinniya town. Then my commander decided I
should go to the North. Normally you don’t go from East to North. But
they were critical years. Such movement has happened only twice before.
My predecessor Admiral Samaratunga also went from East to North. I was
in the North in the final year of the humanitarian operation. In 2008
November we had a terrorist attack which we successfully repulsed. Of
course they damaged a merchant vessel.
Q: You represented the Navy and the Government at various
forums prior to becoming the Commander also. Your experiences?
A: I was exposed to foreign negotiations at various levels in
the areas of purchases, training and operations with countries like
Israel, India, USA. This gave me experience in Naval diplomacy and
negotiation skills, to get the best for my country within the framework
agreed by the government. I was a member of high powered delegations
specially in the Prime Ministerial and Presidential delegations to
Indonesia in 2006 and to Libya in 2009.
Q: Being a sportsman how did you contribute to the uplift of
A: I worked hard. I spent lot of time in developing Navy
sports - cricket, rugger and athletics. I silently did my best to bring
the Navy rugger team to glory. My personal time was given. I did it
genuinely not looking for recognition.
Q: How do you see your appointment as Navy Commander?
A: I am grateful to HE and the Secretary Defence for having
confidence in me, for the investment they made on me to lead the Navy,
specially during on this period of transition. My priority was to see
that at terrorism will not reappear.
Q: What were the reasons that led to your appointment?
A: The most critical was that I ran directives of the
Commander in situ. Rear Admiral Samaratunga and I shared the North and
East for two years the experience and training made us fit for
Q: What were the changes you made so that terrorism will not
A: Two things. Increasing the number of fishing marshalling
points which were restricted to the North to the rest of the country,
where fishing harbours had 500 to 600 boats sailing out without check.
This ensured that nothing comes back to our shores specially from the
strategic islands of the Palk Straits. Cross border communication
between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka is important. We manage and control the
It was Government strategy to establish ourselves in the coast lines
which were isolated. There were serious lapses specially in liberated
areas in places like Nachchikuda, Silavathura, Tammenna and Mullikulum.
Luckily the Army could liberate them and we could strategically position
ourselves along the Eastern coast in Mullaitivu, Chundikulam,
Veddathalthivu and Vettilaikerni. We have also not forgotten the South
Beruwala, Panadura, Negombo, Puttalam, Panama and Arugambay.
We don’t see the enemy now coming with weapons. These rehabilitated
are going into the mainstream. We should be 100 percent sure to know
what is happening around them.
Q: Can the Navy relax at this juncture?
A: We should stabilise so that in the next two years we should
have a solid foundation. Everyone has been given a job to do. That part
should be done with absolute efficiency. We need to emphasise on
training. I took personal interest to instruct new batches recruited to
teach English and public speaking. I encouraged them to read and write.
Unfortunately we are not learning Tamil enough. A large number of
English instructors were recruited to the Navy for this purpose. We have
to be out at sea with people who we must communicate with. If I don’t
know your language I don’t know your feelings. Learning Tamil and
English was given priority.
Q: You said the Navy has to do more than what was done during
the war to defend the country from terror organisations. Reports say
there are ten ships operating elsewhere. What should the Navy do to
A: What I meant was that we must be mindful of the situation.
We have a clean country. If there are ten more LTTE ships intelligence,
surveillance, negotiations, coordinations has to work, foreign support
has to be secured. We must plan our strategies. I had a seven point
strategy to knock off the potential outsiders from our shores. Our
centre of gravity had shifted away from our shores. Our centre of
gravity was Mullaitivu. Now it is all over this Diaspora. So that
potential, the ability of financial support the logistic all these must
be considered. If we fail they will acquire things and put on boats and
will start coming here.
The Navy has to take speedy action. For which we need to have good
vessels to go and remain there. If they penetrate our barriers we have
to pursue them and knock them off. We should not allow them to land.
Q: The Navy went out to sea and destroyed LTTE floating
warehouses. Can we follow the same strategy at this point?
A: At that time we had to destroy in self defence. They were
firing at us. I would have loved to have apprehended them, if it was
possible. It is not a case of destroying. It is a decision when you stop
the ship. We must revise international maritime laws.
We went because it was hurting us. The wound was ours. The man
without the wound also should look for them and stop them for the rest
of the mankind. If I send out a vessel now the orders and rule of
engagement is that if it is an innocent get yourself convinced that it
is innocent. Be hundred percent sure in your decision.
Q: What measures did you take to minimise corruption and waste
in the Navy?
A: Measures were taken to ensure that people won’t rob and
waste resources and funds, buying effective results. There are two
signals that I have sent to conserve electricity.
We have half an hour self imposed power cuts, self imposed less
movements to save electricity and fuel and the Eastern Command saved Rs.
1.9 million in one month. Navy House saves electricity through self
imposed power cuts.
Q: The Navy initiated projects at commercial and community
level. What is their progress.
A: The troop carrier vessel Jetliner has become the most
squghted in the country.
We initiated the project to clean the canals in the city. The
Commander Western Naval area initiated the project and now the Navy
Headquarters handles this. We are expanding boat services upto Panadura
That will reduce the flood situation in Colombo.
Fishing marshalling point have bring revenue to the country. So we
are directly involved in these projects. The Civil Engineering
Department has become the most sought for construction.
Q: What is the biggest achievement of the Navy in the post
A: The message generated through the 60th anniversary
celebrations of the Sri Lanka Navy. The fact that 19 countries responded
and five Veto Powers of the UN participated was significant.
Russia, China and India sent their biggest ships for the first time
Q: Could you realise your dreams in your Naval career ?
A: I had a dream of doing well but not of becoming the number
one wanted to be of service to the Navy. I was looking for what I could
give back to the system and not on what I could get.
In that sense I have achieved my goals. More than anything what I
have achieved is the respect and honour from my subordinates and also
from my superiors and come to this position.
It was a goal I have set in my life to reach the pinnacle. You don’t
aspire for the post. I acquired the best possible qualifications so that
the decision makers didn’t have doubt that I could do the job.
There is another aspect: You become the Navy Commander not on the day
you take up the post. You become the Navy Commander if you have lived
upto the Navy’s command. HE and the Secretary Defence thought I was fit
for the post and I have to fulfil the requirements of the job.
Q: Do you leave the Navy as a satisfied man?
A: Absolutely. For what I have been to the Navy. For what I
have fulfilled as an obligation to the Navy and for my country. At the
initial stages it is for the Navy but as a senior you become part of
national policy. I have no regrets I feel good. But the judgement should
not be mine.
Q: As a Naval officer you’ve done much and as a citizen you
can do more. What are your plans to serve the country after you leave
A: I am available. The President, the Secretary Defence and
decision makers know where my strengths are. Of course 36 and a half
years is quite a long period. My family hopes I would spend some time
with them. I have confidence and still can work long hours.
Q: How do you envisage the future of the Navy?
A: The future Navy should be with coast guard help, a strongly
guarded coastline with maritime domain awareness, with coastal radar
surveillance controlling fishing fleets and the Palk Straits, with
surveillance of our shores, territorial waters at the high seas.
We need vessels trained sailors, technology. We are a technical
service and need larger vessels to be out at sea and smaller vessels to
guard coastal deployment. Seasonally ships from North East to the South
So our small boat concept must continue to control the fishing.
Medium vessels are important. If a situation arises we need to have
ships to lift capability. We need vessels to see into fishermen in
distress far away at sea. Marine pollution, natural disasters, we need
to be geared to. Energy exploration offshore is one of the main themes
of the Government. We need to be capable of operating and protecting
facilities out at sea. The ferry services from Thalai Mannar and
We need to participate at development activities. Men only won’t
improve the Navy. We need to improve our infrastructure. Quality
training needs be given.