Pathfinder Foundation convenes regional conference on Bay of Bengal and Trincomalee

Wednesday, 15 February 2017 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

01Pathfinder Foundation convened ‘Trincomalee Consultations’, a two-day conference participated by countries in the Bay of Bengal, which are dependent on the bay for their trade and other interactions. The conference is attended by India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka. Japan and Norway are also taking part in the deliberations will be held in Cinnamon Grand, Colombo on 16 and 17 February. 

The conference, co-hosted by Carnegie India, will be declared open by Austin Fernando, Governor of the Eastern Province. The event was attended by Santosh Jha, Joint Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs, India and Noriyuki Shikata, Deputy Director-General of Southeast and Southwest Asian Affairs Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan. Among those present will be Milinda Moragoda, Founder of the Pathfinder Foundation (PF), and Luxman Siriwardena, Executive Director of PF. The regional event ‘Colombo Consultations’ was organised by Admiral Dr. Jayanath Colombage, Director, Centre for Indo-Lanka Relations of the PF. 

Following the opening session Chaired by Bernard Goonetilleke, Chairman of PF, papers will be presented on the three themes of the conference by Dr. C. Raja Mohan Director Carnegie India, Abu Saeed Khan (Bangladesh); Dr. Satoru Nagao (Japan); Admiral Dr. Jayanath Colombage, Prof. Rohan Samarajiva, and Rohan Masakorala (Sri Lanka), and Secretary General of BMISTEC, Ambassador Sumith Nakandala. 

The Bay of Bengal is the largest bay in the world and it covers an area of 2,172, 000 sq. km. The bay boasts of a population of about 1.8 billion or nearly 25% of the world population. Many large rivers and tributaries flow in to the Bay depositing sediments, which contain commercially exploitable minerals as well as hydrocarbons.

There are a number of large and small ports that serve the bay. Among the large ports are Chennai, Kolkata, Tuticorin, Vishakhapatnam in India; Chittagong and Mongla in Bangladesh; Yangon, Sitwe, Kyaukpyu in Myanmar; and Trincomalee and Hambantota in Sri Lanka. These ports provide an ideal platform for trade among the countries in the bay as well as trans-shipment facilities to serve major markets beyond the region.

Port of Trincomalee is the biggest natural deep water harbour in the Bay of Bengal and is one of the finest harbours in the world with an average depth of 25 m, which could accommodate even mega container ships carrying over 18,000 TEUs that requires a draught of 19 metres. Trincomalee harbour provided shelter to the British Eastern Fleet, during the 2nd World War. However, following independence in 1948, Sri Lanka took over the control of the Trincomalee harbour in 1957. Since then, for the past 60 years, one of the largest natural harbours in the world has been in a deep slumber, without making use of its real potential. 

The Government has unveiled a plan to develop various parts of the island including Trincomalee. Recognising that poor infrastructure acts as a drag on development plans, the Government has launched an ambitious program of physical infrastructure development to overhaul the sea, air, road connectivity, the energy sector and telecommunications, to form the backbone of Sri Lanka’s economy. 

In addition to the development projects involving Colombo and Hambantota harbours, government has also taken measures to develop Trincomalee to realise the full potential of the Trincomalee harbour and its surrounding areas. Prime Minister outlining the Government’s development plans announced in July 2016 that the Government had engaged the services of a Singapore government-owned consultancy company focusing on infrastructure and urban development, to prepare a master plan for development of Trincomalee, based on shipping, manufacturing and tourism. With the unveiling of the master plan this year, countries in the region as well as others will have an opportunity to become investment partners of the Trincomalee development project and reap benefits of their investments.

The Pathfinder Foundation in cooperation with Carnegie India and with support of Japan and Norway, has launched the ‘Trincomalee Consultations’ to focus on three broad areas. (i) Geo-strategic significance and regional maritime security demands in the Bay of Bengal, (ii) Transportation and economic connectivity in the Bay of Bengal: Way ahead for enhanced cooperation, and (iii) Strategic importance and potential for development of Trincomalee Harbour as a hub for Bay of Bengal region. 

The conference is a Track 1.5 exercise, attended by high level government and non-governmental representatives from Bangladesh, India, Japan, Maldives Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Among the institutions that would attend the event are BIMSTEC, ADB, JICA, Carnegie India, Vivekananda International Foundation and the Tokyo Foundation? The two-day conference, launched with opening statements by Governor of the Eastern Province Austin Fernando, Joint Secretary (Policy Planning) of the Ministry of External Affairs of India Santhosh Jha and Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan Noriyuki Shikata, is expected make proposals for closer cooperation among the Bay of Bengal community by focusing on strategic importance of the bay, making proposals for connectivity and developing Trincomalee Harbour as a hub for the Bay of Bengal region. 

By launching this initiative, the Pathfinder Foundation seeks to contribute to the government strategy for developing Trincomalee as a regional commercial and shipping hub to serve the Bay of Bengal region. This in turn will result in economic growth and prosperity of the Eastern Province, utilising the human and other resources in that province as well as the adjacent provinces.