Nine Sri Lankan Navy Sailors Jump Ship in the United States

sri lanka
Sri Lankan marines (in blue camouflage) join Australian Army colleagues on an airborne assault exercise, RIMPAC 2022 (USN)

Published Jul 28, 2022 10:39 PM by The Maritime Executive

Nine Sri Lankan Navy sailors who traveled to the United States to join the Rim of the Pacific exercise have decided to jump ship and stay, according to Sri Lanka's Economy Next. 

The sailors were part of a 50-person team that deployed from Sri Lanka in June in order to join RIMPAC 2022, the world's largest international naval exercise. After RIMPAC, they were scheduled to help crew a new Sri Lankan Navy ship: the former USCGC Douglas Munro, which was recently decommissioned and transferred to Sri Lanka under a foreign military aid agreement. The former Munro has been undergoing a deep refit in the U.S. and is reportedly set to return to Sri Lanka soon. 

Her crew may now be shorthanded, because "nine people have gone missing," a Sri Lankan official told the outlet. 

The U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka confirmed the incident and said that it has been reported to law enforcement for followup. 

“Individuals who break U.S. immigration laws can be subject to arrest, detention, and deportation, and those who accrue unlawful presence in the United States can be prevented from returning to the U.S. for up to 10 years," the spokesperson noted. 

Sri Lanka is in a state of political and economic upheaval, and the number of its citizens choosing to leave (legally or illegally) is on the rise.

After years of political mismanagement, the nation is facing the worst economic crisis in its history: it defaulted on its foreign debt for the first time ever in April, and its economy has entered free fall. With few government resources left to pay for imported goods, the population has experienced rolling blackouts, severe fuel shortages and soaring inflation. 

In early July, then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was cast out of office by a popular uprising. Protesters broke through barricades and occupied the presidential palace, forcing Rajapaksa and his family to flee.

The Sri Lankan Navy has confirmed that it evacuated the former president aboard a training ship, SLNS Gajabahu, and allowed him to stay safely aboard the vessel within Sri Lankan waters.