Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha made these observations, when he represented Sri Lanka at the 19th Council of Minister’s Meeting of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) held in Abu Dhabi.
The United Arab Emirates taking over from South Africa as the Chairman for the next two years, pledged to work to “reinvigorate” the goal of creating an IORA Development Fund.
Aryasinha said Sri Lanka had long realized the importance of a stable and secure maritime environment for national and regional prosperity, even when there were few takers for Sri Lanka’s grand vision for the region.
He referred to the Indian Ocean Peace Zone (IOPZ) proposal at the UN in 1971, Sri Lanka’s Chairmanship of the Third UN Conference on the Law of Sea in 1973 which led to the adoption of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the Conference on Economic Scientific and Technical Cooperation in the Indian Ocean in Marine Affairs in the context of the New Ocean Regime (IOMAC-I), which was held in Colombo, in July 1985.
Since 2018, Sri Lanka has taken on the responsibility of being the Coordinator of the IORA Working Group on Maritime Safety and Security (IORA-WGMSS), bringing to it the experience of having faced numerous maritime security threats during the separatist terrorist conflict.
The First Meeting of the group held in Colombo in August 2019, provided a platform to discuss shared priorities of Member States in the sphere of maritime safety and security, mainly focusing on tackling maritime criminal activities in the Indian Ocean, evolving maritime security challenges with existing maritime legal jurisprudence, drug trafficking, transnational crime and the global fishing industry. He said the Colombo meeting also finalized the draft WGMSS Work Plan in which 54 short term, ongoing and long-term projects were identified. It is encouraging to note that Member States have already taken up the responsibility as the lead country for the implementation of 16 projects with the assistance of the IORA Secretariat.
Noting that Sri Lanka’s commitment towards Maritime Safety and Security in the Indian Ocean is not limited to IORA, he cited the October 2018, “The Indian Ocean: Defining Our Future”, a Track 1.5 dialogue which brought to Colombo 300 senior officials representing 40 countries including IORA Member States to discuss the future of the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka planned to convene the “The Indian Ocean: Defining Our Future”, Track 1 Ministerial Conference next year, aimed at formulating a “Statement of Understanding” by participating nations.
Additional Secretary/ Economic Affairs P.M. Amza and Director/Ocean Affairs and Climate Change Ms. Dilani Weerakoon were associated with the Foreign Secretary at the Ministerial Meeting and also participated in the preceding IORA Senior Officials Meeting.
The IORA includes Australia, Bangladesh, Comoros, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, the Maldives, Mozambique, Oman, Seychelles, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Currently, IORA’s dialogue partners are China, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.