Friday, May. 10, 1963

Hooch in the Hold

Although it has never fought a war, the bathtub Royal Ceylon Navy* might at least be expected to defend its homeland, off southern India, against smugglers. But last week many a Ceylonese was wondering whose side of the smuggling racket the fleet was really on.

Climaxing a two-year investigation, a commission of inquiry in Colombo accused 22 Ceylonese navy officers—the cream of the top naval leadership—of conspiring to smuggle a treasure-trove of contraband into the country. Chief among them is the former naval chief of staff, Rear Admiral Royce de Mel, 47. When he sailed grandly home from a 1960 goodwill cruise in Asian waters, the commission charged, the magazines of De Mel's flagship and an escorting frigate had been loaded with some $10,000 worth of bounty bought in duty-free ports. Main source was Singapore, where De Mel's bluejackets had joyously laid in 100 cases of Grant's Scotch, 25 cases of other brands of whisky, plus cases of rum, gin, brandy, champagne and beer, intended for disposal back home. Investigators added that the hot cargo also included crated refrigerators, hi-fi sets, transistor radios, furniture, rare Hong Kong vases and gold bangles—most, unfortunately, confiscated by Ceylon authorities after the fleet dropped anchor upon its return.

De Mel and his fellow brass now stand to lose their commissions, but the prospect is the lesser of the admiral's worries. With 27 other suspects, he is already in prison, accused of participating in an abortive plot last year to overthrow Ceylon's strongwoman Prime Minister, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike.

*Two vintage frigates, two converted minesweepers, a seaward defense boat, a dozen PT-boats and a seagoing tug.