Colombo, March 30: A symposium on maritime security in the Bay of Bengal was convened, in Colombo, by the Pathfinder Foundation with the UK-based Torchlight Group International (TAG) and the Royal United Services Institution (RUSI).
The symposium culminated in a 6-month pilot project involving three countries, namely Bangladesh, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, resulting in regional papers and perception surveys encompassing communities of all three countries. Pathfinder Foundation prepared the Sri Lanka Country Paper, which study was carried out by Foundation’s National Consultant, Rear Admiral (Retd.) Y.N. Jayarathna, supported by the Pathfinder Foundation team.
As a follow-up to the study, two symposiums were conducted. The first was held in Dhaka and the second in Colombo to share findings with a larger audience of specialists and practitioners. The Colombo symposium comprised several sessions. Chairman Pathfinder Foundation, Bernard Goonetilleke, made the Welcome Address with H.E. Sarah Hulton, the British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, delivered the Keynote Address.
The topic of session one was Organized Crime, which looked at the threat posed by transnational organized crime in the region, focusing on the issue of narcotics trafficking and other forms of maritime crime and the challenges faced explicitly by Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Speakers in this session were Rear Admiral (Retd.) Y.N. Jayarathna, who provided perspectives from Sri Lanka; Dr. Athaulla Rasheed, Department of Pacific Affairs, Australia National University sharing findings from the Maldives; Prof. Rashed Uz Zaman, Lead Researcher-BIMRAD from Bangladesh; Dr. David Brewster, Senior Research Fellow, National Security College, Australian National University providing a regional perspective and Dr. Anasua Basu Ray Choudhury and Ms. Sohini Bose from Observer Research Foundation (ORF), India sharing data and findings from the perception survey.
The focus of session two was illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing. Challenges presented for monitoring and tracking illegal activities across the region, which especially affect the Sri Lankan fishing industry, were a subject of discussion. Prof. M.J.S. Wijeyarathe, Chairman National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) and Nur Ahmed, Research Officer (BIMRAD joined the panel of experts from Australia and India for this session.
Session three on Climate Change and Environmental Protection examined the region’s growing challenges due to climate change exacerbated by maritime disasters such as the X-Press Pearl, which UNEP described as the worst to have affected Sri Lanka. The social, environmental and economic effects of climate change and maritime disasters on the environment and maritime industry in Sri Lanka and the Maldives were discussed and deliberated by the panel, which consisted of Ms. Darshani Lahandapura, Former Chairman of Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), who provided an insightful presentation of the adverse effects of maritime disasters in the broader environment, whilst Rear Admiral (Retd.) Y.N. Jayarathna added findings from the study. Findings from Bangladesh, a regional view and perception survey data were added to the session.
The fourth and final session on Regional Cooperation – the Role for the Maldives- primarily focused on the future of regional maritime cooperation, the role of the Maldives and third-party actors beyond the region. Dr. Athaulla Rasheed shared findings from the Maldives Country Paper whilst Amb. Sumith Nakandala, former Secretary General of BIMSTEC and Senior Director of Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS) provided expert comments from a regional perspective. The rest of the panellists added to the discussion.
In her closing remarks, Ms Veerle Nouwens, Senior Fellow, RUSI, reiterated the importance of a regional and extra-regional architecture to address maritime security threats in the Bay of Bengal, which has emerged as one of the key recommendations of this pilot project. She added that the report in its final form would be published and available online for interested parties to study.