The Vessel Commenced Sailing Between Colombo and The North and East of Sri Lanka

Following the meeting, the Commissioner General of Essential Services chartered the vessel. Few days later we received instructions from the Company that we had to paint the Red Cross at three conspicuous places on the ship in keeping with the denotation of the International Red Cross.

Thereafter the ship was loaded with containers of foodstuff and essential items destined for Mullaitivu and Jaffna. In addition to the ship’s crew, I had two fork lift drivers, one mechanic and one helper from the Sri Lanka Ports Authority as well as a representative from the International Red Cross, a Frenchman. Accommodation was never a problem as there was ample cabin space in the ship.

On completion of loading, the vessel sailed for Trincomalee. On arrival at Trincomalee, the ship was further loaded with containers stuffed with bagged wheat flour. We left Trincomalee and arrived in Mullaitivu, the morning of July 31st.

Few hours after the vessel anchored off Mullaitivu, we saw a small boat approaching. When it came alongside, we saw one priest and three others. One of the officers met them at the gangway and brought them up to the bridge. I greeted them and immediately arranged for some soft drinks. After making himself comfortable, the priest, a Catholic, introduced himself as Rev Fr. Stalin – the Parish Priest of Mullaitivu church. As I was talking to them, he said that since they were Tamils, he and his men were afraid to come on board as we were all Sinhalese. He further said he never expected this sought of treatment. I said to him, “Father, I have 24 Sinhalese on board and you will know of us, our thoughts and attitude during this brief encounter. We are not for war. Unfortunately, there is a certain group in the North and East who have created this situation and we are at the receiving end of all these selfish and self-centred actions of those people.”

The charter continued for about six months. I was so glad; my crew and I were able to help at a personal level, those whom we met in Mullaitivu, Point Pedro and in Delft Island.


Carrying Essential Food Items To The North and East of Sri Lanka

My ship was in Colombo, after towing a disabled Maldivian vessel which was drifting at sea about 120 miles South East of the port of Colombo. It was during the South West monsoons and the weather was very rough. I remember when we approached and got closer to the vessel, first we checked with the Master if there were any sick people on board. Fortunately, there weren’t any sick people but they needed fresh water and food. Thankfully, we were able to supply some fresh water through a small flexible pipe, and transfer some food. The towline was then connected and the vessel was brought safely to the port of Colombo. It was a good operation; rescuing life at sea.

Around the same time, when the ethnic war erupted in July of 1990, all communication and transport to the North of Sri Lanka came to a stand still. This created a situation in the North and in some parts of the East of Sri Lanka where the Government had no way of sending foodstuff and essentials. People living in those areas had the wolf at their doors.

It was around this time that the Department of Essential services which came under purview of the Ministry of Social Services had approached our Company seeking help to transport foodstuff and essential items to the North.

I remember, one day a few Government officials including the Commissioner General of Essential Services came onboard. While talking with me he asked if my crew and I were agreeable to go to the North with some essential items. He further asked if I would ask for an extra allowance for going into an area considered to be dangerous due to the ongoing war. I told him that I was ready but I have to check with my crew and would let him know. He requested for an answer immediately, if possible.

The total number of officers and ratings onboard at that time was about 19. All 19 persons were Sinhalese. While all government officials and our company directors waited in my cabin, I went down and had a meeting with all my officers and crew – they all were ready to go to the North and declined any extra payment. This was conveyed to all who were waiting in my cabin. They left the vessel with a lot of regard for us.


Fr. Marcelline Jayakody

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was born on June 3, 1902 at Dankotuwa in Sri Lanka. He had his early education at a school in Madampe, a village close to Dankotuwa. And, both the villages, Madampe and Dankotuwa are in Chilaw District. He had his secondary education at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo. In 1920 he entered St. Bernard’s Seminary and was ordained a priest on December 20, 1927. He had an eventful career replete with ups and downs. He was a priest ahead of the times and all his defeats later turned out to be victories. No other Catholic priest in Sri Lanka had touched the hearts and lives of the people in our country like Fr. Marcelline Jayakody.

There was always the love for national culture in his veins. As a young priest Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was criticized in Church circles for offering some Lotus flowers at the sanctuary at the wedding Mass of one of his relatives. Since then much water has flowed under the bridges in Sri Lanka. Now the national culture is given its due place in the Catholic Church and Fr. Marcelline Jayakody is considered an exponent of indigenous culture.

In the 1940s and 1950s, especially around Independence, there was a national awakening in Sri Lanka. This national consciousness had its effect on the Catholic Church as well. Accordingly Fr. Marcelline Jayakody too began to compose hymns with a national fervour. The outstanding hymns of Fr. Marcelline Jayakody at the time like, ‘Ronata Vadina Bigngu Obay’, ‘Nelum Pipeela Pethi Visireela’ and ‘Suvanda Jale Pipi Kumudiniya’, with their superb lyrics, sweet music and local setting, captivated the hearts of all.

These hymns of Fr. Marcelline Jayakody were simple and close to the people. They are appreciated by even non-Catholics. They contain both Christian aspects and national sentiments. They are a clear example for cultural adaptation in its true perspective.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody underwent some training at Shanthinikethan, the famous oriental arts centre set up by Rabindranath Tagore. When Fr. Marcelline Jayakody returned to Sri Lanka he was sent to Tolagatty in Jaffna as punishment for leaving the country without the permission of the Church authorities. Later he served as teacher at St. Patrick’s College, Jaffna.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody made use of his stay in Jaffna to make a study of the Hindu religion and Tamil culture. He wrote a series of articles to the ‘Times of Ceylon’ on Hindu culture and the simple and serene life of the people and the beauty of Jaffna.

In 1953 Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was appointed to the staff of St. Peter’s College, Colombo. And few years later he was transferred to St. Joseph’s College where he joined tutorial staff of his Alama Mater.

Continuing his literary work, he published the book, ‘Muthu’, containing the poems in ‘Kaviya’. ‘Mutu’ won for Fr. Marcelline Jayakody the Presidential Award for the best poetry book in 1979 and in 1983 the famous international award, the Magsaysay Prize.

That is not all. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was the author of several books of prose and poetry, both in Sinhala and in English. He was also a well known journalist who has carried columns in both Catholic and secular newspapers. He was also an active member of the ‘Hela Havula’ for several years. Until his death he was the president of the Sinhala Poets’ Association.

Ven. Dr. Ittapane Dhammalankara Thera has written a book on Fr. Marcelline Jayakody titled ‘Malpale Upan Pansale Piyatuma’. This is the first book in the whole world written by a Buddhist prelate on a Catholic priest.

Fr. Marcelline Jayakody was awarded the Kalasuri title by the state and Kirthi Nandana Pranamaya by the Catholic Church for his outstanding contributions to the arts and culture in Sri Lanka.

The death anniversary of Fr. Marcelline Jayakody OMI, the well known Catholic priest, musician, poet, author, journalist and patriot falls on January 15. A household name in our country and a legend in his lifetime, he passed away on January 15, 1998 . He lived long till the ripe old age of 96.

Sincere to God and sincere to man, Fr. Marcelline Jayakody is the proud boast of Catholics, as a national artist and patriot.

The above is taken from an article written by Mr Lesli Fernando.


About Troubled Waters

From collision to mutiny and murder, Marine Captain John De Silva’s TROUBLED WATERS sets down with searing honesty the highs and lows of the professional seafarer’s life. The land is but a temporary haven in which relationships are made, but the blue sea is where unforgettable events occur and memories are relived. This captivating memoir explores the sheer optimism we human beings have been endowed with to meet the adversities of life head on.

From plagues of cockroaches, engine failures, duplicity and deceit, to Reema, the Indian girl who gets pregnant and is subsequently abandoned by her Muslim boyfriend and forced into a lifetime of prostitution, the book explores human life and our relationship with the divine that allows us to steer a steady course through chaos as we head toward a peaceful anchor.

This is the story of a voyage that Captain John de Silva undertakes with all its attendant vicissitudes and death-defying miseries. Yet throughout he never loses his faith in the Lord; never loses that optimism we human beings have been endowed with to balance out fear and despair.

Captain De Silva’s odyssey begins in January, 2006, when he assumes command of the ship Cape Agulhas with its Myanmar crew. In his voyage around the coast of Africa, almost everything that can go wrong does. From a seasick cook who can’t cook, officials who demand bribes at every port, and a silent but very unpredictable and dangerous crew who never obey an order without first having a lengthy conclave among themselves, the Captain faces one test after another–trusting in his faith in God to find his way through.

If you’re wondering what a lifetime at sea might be like, you won’t want to miss this book.


Captain John P. De Silva Bio

Captain John Priyantha De Silva is a master mariner who hails from the coastal city of Galle, Sri Lanka. His first book Through Deep Waters created a wave of interest about “life at sea”. Next came his “Troubled Waters” which was met with a greater sound of applause. Captain De Silva was hailed as a celebrity Captain as rave reviews flowed. Troubled Waters is Captain John De Silva’s third book about the sea, written at sea.
John holds a Master Mariner Class 1 from the Sydney Maritime College, Australia. He is also a member of the Company of Master Mariners of Sri Lanka since May 1991. John De Silva now lives in New York, U.S.A with his wife Subitha and his children.

Biography In Brief

I am John Priyantha De Silva born on December 18, 1952. Ceylon, as my home country was called at the time of my birth, is a tropical Island, in the Indian Ocean. After becoming a Republic, the name was changed to Republic of Sri Lanka.   My father was Bertram De Silva and my mother Corinne De Silva. My mother’s maiden name is Rajapakse. I always thank God for giving me good parents and giving me the wisdom to plan my life according to his will. I thank my parents for educating me in a good school and bringing me up in a sound and moderate social background.

I studied at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo upto High School Certificate level. During my school days I wrote a few short stories in Sinhala and in English covering some of my own experiences and actions, and also those of my friends and classmates. Late, Rev Fr. Marceline Jayakody was my Sinhala and English teacher during the final year at High School. It was Father Jayakody who inspired me to write in both languages.(Read More about Fr. Marceline here)

Although I liked the game of cricket very much I did not take part in cricket at school level. I played football and was a member of the 1971 and 1972, first eleven team of the school. I will always remember that, I was a member of the team which played a very good game of football to end up with a score of 2 goals each after going into extra time, and draw with St. Benedict’s College, Kotahena. St. Benedict’s College, at that time had the best school football team. On the following day, the news item appeared in one daily paper had called the end of the game as “Golden memories and Silver tears”, because St. Joseph’s had lost to St. Benedict’s for many years prior to that. I am and always will be a great fan of Manchester United.

My first visit on board a ship

Somewhere in October 1971 I was invited by a friend to join him to go on board a ship berthed in Colombo harbour. I was delighted at the invitation. But I explained to him my problem. He said that he would obtain permission from my mother. He came with his brother, who happened to be the third officer on that ship. My mother allowed me to go on board the ship with them. It was great. As the Third Officer, he was living in luxury. As it was in the evening we declined dinner. Therefore we were served with a hot cup of soup brought in by a steward. I went around the ship and it was out of this world. The name of the ship was “Lanka Rani”, Sri Lanka’s very first cargo ship.

Following the visits to the “Lanka Rani”, I developed a liking towards seafaring. One day when my father was at home, I just mentioned my idea to him. His immediate response was “don’t talk nonsense”. As he was a person of few words, it took another month or so to find out why he said that. I once called the friend who was an officer on the “Lanka Rani” to visit home when my father was there. He obliged. Both brothers came and had lunch with us. It was extremely difficult to convince my parents. They went on saying that I being the eldest in the family, they just cannot even think of sending me to sea, considering the dangers and other activities involved in seafaring.

Joining the merchant Navy

One of my Uncle’s who knew my ambition, once visited our home and informed me that a company in Sri Lanka based in Colombo will be calling applications for Officer Cadets in the Merchant Navy. It was advertised in the papers. After a long deliberation, my father agreed to help me with the application. He followed up the matter with the Finance Director of the Company who was known to him. He had assured my father that my application had been filed and the interviews will be held in March 1973.

In March a written exam was held by the Company which I passed. I was then given a date to come for an interview. I was interviewed by a very senior Master Mariner (Senior Ship’s Captain) in the country. He first checked my vision report and was satisfied with the results. Then he interviewed me for more than two hours. I still remember what he mentioned towards the end of the interview, “Son, take very serious note that you are going to marry the sea and forget about weddings, funerals, etc.”

In April 1973 the same Captain had a very long discussion with my father. At the end of the discussion he said that I will be informed in writing, and to come on the date mentioned with two sureties to sign the bond and be prepared to keep a refundable cash deposit of Rs. 5000.00. The estimated time for signing the bond was around June 1973, and we kept checking on the time that I was going to be called in for this purpose. It was a Thursday in October when I finally received the letter calling me to report to the Office with sureties to sign the bond. A week later I was handed in vouchers for my uniforms and shoes. The situation at home changed. Everybody was happy. The next thing was that my parents and I visited my grandmothers’, close relations and friends to give them the good news of my being recruited as an Officer Cadet in the Merchant Navy. I studied at Sir John Cass maritime College in London and also at the Lal Bhadur Sahstri Nautical College in Mumbai. Final part of my studies was done at Sydney Maritime College in NSW Australia and, I obtained Masters Certificate (Master Mariner) in December 1989.

First Voyage

In the 12th November 1973, I joined my first ship at Colombo. Along with me there was another Sri Lankan and an Indian Cadet. On that day, I first went to church with my parents. We had a very simple celebration at home with kiribath, (milk rice etc.,) and proceeded to the Shipping office to sign on the vessel. Those days security was not strict as it is now and about 20 of my immediate family members including my maternal grandmother went on board with me.

Through these years I have commanded many ships; all types, other than Tankers.   I am also a Marine Surveyor and a Marine Consultant.

The main aim of my first book was to convey a message to people of all walks life, both genders and any one above fifteen years of age; by very carefully reading the same to avoid any possible unpleasant situations in life and be prepared to face any situation that would very suddenly arise  at any stage of life.


Master Mariner Exam

I passed my Master Mariner exam in December that year. But, remained in Australia until February 1990, to do some touring and catching up with a few friends who lived in Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane.

There was a very good opportunity for my class mates and I who passed the exam, to remain in Australia and apply for permanent resident status, as the College was ready to employ a few of us, as teachers. But, especially after my father’s death I wanted to return to Sri Lanka and be with my mother and family. It was unfair by me to just stay away from the family under such circumstances.
I returned to Sri Lanka in February and started looking for a job at sea. God is great! In May, the same year, a senior Captain, helped me with a job as Master. That was great, I thought. It’s truly a rare occasion, that one gets command straight away. Thanks be to God.

I joined the ship in Singapore and sailed for about seven months. I signed off for Christmas. Prior to my signing off, the shipping company wanted me to return, and they found a person to fill-in for me for two months. I had a good Christmas with my family. Of course I missed my father very much.


Sad News from Home

After sailing on the Atlantic Universal for about Nine months, I signed off the ship in Sheerness, England and went back home.

I did not have happy feelings on arrival at home because of the news I’ve already had about my father’s ill health. He went through a major operation but did not seem to recover, well. This made us very sad.

In the meantime, I applied to the Maritime College in Sydney, Australia and within a few weeks after having received my acceptance, I had to make necessary preparations to proceed to Australia latest by end January in the coming year. Whatever the work I had, I always found time to take my father to the doctors for consultations and treatment

Christmas that year was not a good one for my family and I.

New year was dawn, and I left for Australia with my wife on January 28 that year.  Upon arrival in Sydney, we were met and taken to his house by one time the superintendent of the shipping company I worked for.  He helped us to find an apartment and when we found a suitable one we shifted to live there.

I joined the college, and started attending classes the first week of February. I called my father regularly, and it appeared his condition was deteriorating.  I was engrossed in my studies preparing for the forthcoming exams and without my knowledge I had let a few weeks pass without checking on my father’s health condition.

I immediately called home when I realised this, but unfortunately the telephone was out of order. Then I contacted one of my father’s brothers who told me that his condition was not very good. I felt that he avoided giving me details.

On the 7th of April 1989, I returned home after completing one paper. Well, I had no problems answering that and I thought that being a Friday I must have a good evening.

Around 4.15 p.m. the telephone rang, when I picked it up for a moment I thought it was my father’s voice but what that person said was not clear. I immediately called home and was happy to have found the phone working.

My mother’s cousin answered the phone and he asked me to hold on while my mother came on line. She could not talk and was breaking down; with great difficulty she said “Son, your father passed away. On hearing this the receiver in my hand fell on the floor and, with that the line was disconnected.

I called again and my mother’s cousin came on line and told me that my father passed away at home at about 12.00 noon on that day.

It was very bad news. With all I knew of my father’s sickness I always thought that he would live for another few years.

I was all alone and wept uncontrollably with thoughts of my father tearing my heart, soul and my very being.

I had nothing much to do; I called home and spoke with my mother once again. I confirmed that it is impossible for me to attend the funeral and therefore they ought not to delay it but have it on Sunday when it’s convenient for people to attend. She agreed and said she will convey the message to my brother.

Thereafter, I began to pray and I refer to the following verse from the Holy bible: John  11 : 25 –26
Then I imagined that, ‘my father had served the purpose of God and has returned back to Him.’

While serving on the “Atlantic Universal” few incidents that I remember.

The ship loaded cargo for a port in South Atlantic Ocean, and sailed out of Le-Havre. We experienced very bad weather and it was in the month of November that year.  As it was found not safe to navigate on the planned route, the Captain decided to come towards the Island of Azores and cross the Atlantic. A day on the new route and we found that the weather improved. The Captain seemed more relaxed and came up to me and said “Come John, let us sing the national Anthem.”

Then I said to him “Sir, you sing yours and I will sing mine!”

He did not like that but there seemed nothing much he could do about it.

With that, I had to face more rough weather onboard the ship while all the others were enjoying the good weather in mid Atlantic Ocean.



The Ship called at the port of Maputo

There was a bulk carrier berthed in front of our ship, and it was discharging wheat. There were many security men preventing and chasing the people collecting spilled and scattered wheat on the pier. It was a great task for them to get rid of so many people.

It was a very sad sight.

I was talking to the cargo Supervisor designated to our ship. “Mister, why are those people fighting to collect the scattered wheat along with the dust? To my understanding, this is aid cargo and is to be distributed free of charge.”

The cargo Supervisor grinned in obvious annoyance and said cynically – “Who is getting those free?” “Yes.  It must have been meant to be so, but none of us get a grain of that free or for that matter for a fair price.” He continued, “for your information, Mister Mate, all or most of that stuff go to other African countries by land.” “Can’t you see part of the cargo is being loaded to railway wagons?” He raised his voice and said, “all that is sold to other neighboring countries by our government.” “This country is starving. No education, no medical facilities, no houses, people are on the road.” The salary that I am earning  for one month is not enough to feed my wife and four children for two weeks. What happens after that?”

He continued,“My eldest daughter is only 17 years. She left home and, I understand that she spends nights in nightclubs. ”

“I went with my wife looking for her. I am sure she went into hiding and never came to meet us.” “She was very good in her studies, I planned to send her to South Africa but before that she deserted us.” “Now I have given up and I am not interested any more!”


Looking for greener pastures.

After passing the First Mates’ Exam, I wanted to change the company. And, I started to look for jobs with foreign companies. Unfortunately, at that time jobs at sea were very hard to find.

It was around this time I saw an advertisement on a weekend Newspaper calling applications for Second Officers and Third Engineers with a superior certificate of competency. I did not waste time on this and, I applied. I was called for an interview in Colombo. The person who interviewed me was a Captain, and he was a British National.  The interview went through, and I got the job.

Three weeks later, myself and a Third Engineer, flew from Colombo to Bremerhaven to join the vessel “Atlantic Universal”. The wages were good, and I started to collect money to go for the Master’s Exam.

My father had been to Australia on Scholarship, and had very good things to say about the country.  Therefore, for the Master’s exam, my first choice was Australia.

After an initial, unpleasant and unsettled situation on board “Atlantic Universal” ;the change of command lead to a peaceful and happy life on board. I got along very well with the new Captain. It was plain and pleasant sailing. Thank God for that!

I gained a lot of experience in my work because the vessel was a reefer ship that carried refrigerated cargoes, and was on worldwide trading. The longest voyage during the time I was on board was from the port of San Antonio, Chile to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It was approximately 10,300 Nautical miles.

transiting the Suez Canal.