Commander Combined Task Force 151 (CCTF 151) Commodore Zahid Ilyas SI(M) S.Bt recently visited Sri Lanka to boost cooperation, coordination and information exchanges with the Sri Lankan Navy, in order to lay the foundations for Sri Lanka becoming a member of Combined Maritime Forces (CMF).
The visit offered an opportunity to highlight the role and importance of CMF and CTF151 to the Sri Lankan Government, Sri Lanka Navy and Shipping Industry. Commodore Zahid Ilyas called on the Chief of Staff Sri Lanka Navy, Rear Admiral SS Ranasinghe, the Director General Operations, Rear Admiral DMB Wettewa and the Director General Training, Rear Admiral Mukv Bandara.
He briefed each one about the structure and role of CMF, and highlighted the roles of the different task forces. He stressed the importance of maritime security in counter piracy operations, discussed human and narcotics smuggling, and also discussed the threat of terrorism in the CMF area of operations, which stretches as far as the shores of Sri Lanka. During the discussions, he also stressed the importance of cooperation between CMF and the Sri Lankan Navy on maritime security issues in order to ensure freedom of navigation at sea.
Following his productive meeting with flag officers, Commodore Ilyas visited Vice Admiral Ravindra C Wijegunaratne, Commander of the Sri Lankan Navy. During the meeting, he highlighted the benefits that CMF membership would bring to Sri Lanka. Vice Admiral Wijegunaratne was keen to build the capacity of the Sri Lankan Navy through participation in seminars, conferences and interactions. The Admiral also showed willingness for his Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVS) to provide associated support whenever they are deployed at greater distances from Sri Lankan coast.
Commodore Ilyas also met with other high level government officials, including the Secretary Defence, Engr Karunasena Hettiarachchi, who was keen to build the capacity of the Sri Lankan Navy. He then called on Mr Arjuna Ranatunga, Minister for Port and Shipping, briefing him on maritime security issues and offering reassurance to the merchant community over the freedom of navigation on the high seas and safe guards against menace of piracy. The Minister agreed to support the request for the Sri Lankan Navy to assist CMF as appropriate.
Commodore Zahid Ilyas also attended a meeting with the maritime community and visited the Director General Ceylon Shipping Corporation Ltd, with whom he discussed the support that CTF151 offers to merchant shipping in high risk areas.