Colombo, November 26: India’s National Security Adviser Shri Ajit Doval, Maldivian Defence Minister Honorable Mariya Didi and Lankan Defense Secretary Maj.Gen. Rtd. Kamal Gunaratne are expected to lead the delegations at a two-day conference on maritime security to be held here on November 27 and 28.
The Trilateral Meeting, will also have delegations from Bangladesh, Mauritius and Seychelles participating as observers, the Lankan Ministry of Defense said.
The high-level engagement, that covers a wide range of subjects, is designed to initiate collective action on maritime security, including Maritime Domain Awareness, legal regimes, training, search and rescue, maritime pollution response, information sharing, curbing piracy, drugs, arms and contraband trafficking in the Indian Ocean Region, the Ministry said.
The Meeting is convened this year after six years since the last meeting in New Delhi in 2014, preceded by two previous forums in Sri Lanka and Maldives respectively.
The Heads of Delegation are also scheduled to conduct bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the Trilateral Meeting. India’s NSA Ajit Doval is to meet President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Eastern Container Terminal
Doval is expected to take up the issue of the Eastern Container Terminal (ECT) in Colombo port as India feels that it is important for its national security to have a foothold in the port in view of the Chinese presence there. China is running a terminal adjacent to the ECT. India’s case is buttressed by the fact that 70% of the Colombo port’s business is India transshipment.
A Memorandum of Cooperation was signed a long time ago according to which the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) was to collaborate with an Indian and Japanese company to build and run the ECT. The previous President Maithripala Sirisena had cancelled the agreement on the grounds that he preferred to keep national assets like ports solely with Sri Lankan entities. The successor government of Gotabaya Rajapaksa is also of the same view. Additionally, the port workers’ union had agitated against giving the terminal to a foreign entity.
However, India is very keen on getting the ECT and NSA Ajit Doval is expected to take up the issue with the Lankan President and Prime Minister very strongly.
Nitin Gokhale writing in www.stratnewsglobal.com adds:
Significantly, the initiative to revive the maritime security mechanism has come from Sri Lanka and Maldives, strategically located in the Indian Ocean which is now emerging as the new playground for big power rivalries. Increasing forays by the PLA Navy in the Indian Ocean has been the subject of intense discussions across small and big countries in the region and India, which prides itself as the net security provider in the Indian Ocean region, is more than willing to lead the initiative since Delhi wants to retain its primacy by establishing an effective cooperative network. India is, of course, going out of its way to provide expertise and support that the smaller but important neighbours require in view of increasing human trafficking and drug smuggling operations in the Indian Ocean Region.
Drug Smuggling From Pakistan
On Wednesday, for instance, the Indian Coast Guard apprehended a Sri Lanka registered boat that was carrying over 100 kg of heroin off the coast of Tuticorin. The drug consignment, according to the arrested crew, originated from Pakistan. The tip-off came from two sources which enabled the Coast Guard to apprehend the boat. The final destination of the large drug consignment was believed to be Australia. More details are awaited but the incident underscores the need for close cooperation between Indian Ocean countries.
The idea of the trilateral maritime cooperation, which now looks set to be expanded, is premised on three basic principles:
Enhancing Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) through measures such as sharing of Automatic Identification System (AIS) and Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) data etc.
Training and capacity building initiatives in areas of MDA, Search and Rescue (SAR), Oil Pollution response etc.
Conducting joint activities including trilateral exercises, maintaining lines of communication on illegal maritime activities, formulation of marine oil pollution response contingency plan and cooperation in legal and policy issues related to piracy.