By Asiri Fernando
India and Sri Lanka will seek to expand training opportunities between the coast guards of both countries, Daily FT learns.
The decision was taken at the 5th annual high-level meeting between the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) and Sri Lanka Coast Guard (SLCG), held virtually on Tuesday (22), under the provisions of the bilateral MoU signed between both agencies.
The meeting was co-chaired by the Director General ICG Krishnaswamy Natarajan and Director General SLCG Rear Admiral Anura Ekanayake. Each delegation had representatives from their respective ministries of foreign affairs.
The 5th iteration of the meeting was to be held last year but was postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Both coast guards assured strengthening of the operational level interaction for search and rescue, preservation and protection of the marine environment, information sharing to deter narcotics trafficking by sea, continuous professional engagement for experience sharing, and revalidated the established operational and communication procedures between the two coast guards,” the SLCG said in a statement.
The call for assistance from the ICG to battle the blaze onboard the now wrecked MV X-Press Pearl container vessel was made under the provisions of the MoU between both coast guards. The MoU was entered into in 2018.
The arrival of ICGs purpose-built pollution control vessels during the MV New Diamond tanker fire and the Singaporean flagged MV X-Press Pearl incident provided respondents a significant boost in firefighting and oil spill containment capability on-site.
The SLCG has limited oil spill response capability in the form of two Fast Patrol Vessels (FPV) – SLCGS Samudra Raksha (CG 501) and SLCGS Samaraksha (CG 502) – which were commissioned in 2018. The vessels were built in Japan through a grant extended by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). They are equipped with flotation booms and a skimmer system that can contain and skim small oil spills at sea. The FPVs can also spray chemical oil dispersants which break the oil up into small droplets, increasing the likelihood of it biodegrading.
The high volume of commercial shipping that travels around Sri Lanka, which includes a large number of tankers carrying petroleum and chemical products through the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and several sea pollution incidents since 2000, had prompted the SLCG to highlight the need for capacity building. SLCG had requested the Government provide the agency with two purpose-built pollution control vessels (PCVs) with better firefighting capability last year, a senior defence official told the Daily FT on the condition of anonymity.
“However, they were told there is a lack of funding for such vessels and the SLCG resubmitted the request seeking only one vessel this year,” the defence official added, pointing out that Sri Lanka sits at a midway point between the maritime hubs of the Middle East and Singapore.
“Regional support is vital; Sri Lanka, India and Maldives work closely on these matters. However, we (Sri Lanka) need to build capacity and capabilities to respond to maritime emergencies and pollution in the seas around us. When it comes to pollution control, Sri Lanka doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for assistance to arrive to contain the spread. We need better monitoring and coordinating and response capability, both naval and aviation.”