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Maritime routes: Govt. strongly opposes review of shipping lanes

Maritime routes: Govt. strongly opposes review of shipping lanes

17 Jun 2023 | By Asiri Fernando

  • SL delegation to leave for UK next month
  • NARA to prepare report for Govt.
  • Changes could have serious impact on SL ports

The Government will ‘strongly oppose’ a request by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to review the vessel Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) located south of Dondra Head, The Sunday Morning learns.

The shipping lanes which lie south of Sri Lanka are invaluable to the island’s economy and commerce, being the lifeblood of the Colombo and Hambantota Ports.

The Sunday Morning last week reported that the IMO’s request had triggered a round of consultations among key State stakeholders in Colombo, with a committee led by President’s Senior Advisor on Climate Change Ruwan Wijewardene and Navy Commander Vice Admiral Priyantha Perera earlier this month.

When contacted, Foreign Minister Ali Sabry told The Sunday Morning that the Government planned to strongly oppose the move by the IMO.

“We will strongly oppose this. Sri Lanka was not consulted on this matter and we have asked that the issue not be placed on the agenda,” Minister Sabry explained.

According to him, the IMO request has no merit and if agreed to, would have serious implications for Sri Lanka’s maritime lines of communication and shipping, which the island is dependent on for trade and commerce.

The IMO had requested Sri Lanka to review the shipping lane structure south of the island due to concerns about ship collisions with whales, other marine life, and small vessels.

According to the IMO, the TSS located south of Dondra Head in Sri Lanka serves one of the largest marine trade lanes in the world. This trade corridor serves thousands of ships engaged in trade between Asia and Europe as well as important trade bound for destinations in the Indian Ocean and other locations connected to this major East-West marine traffic corridor.

“The unfortunate overlay of the existing TSS with a major marine feeding ground for an important population of blue whales has long been recognised as one of the most significant areas in the world where the risk of ship strikes is very high. This is a function of one of the busiest traffic separation schemes in the world coinciding with a major marine feeding area,” the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee said in a recent report issued following its 80th session.

Vessel monitoring data indicates over 40,000 ships transit through these waters every year.

The IMO decided to call for the establishment of a new TSS south of Sri Lanka following the sessions held in April. Its request has been welcomed by some environmentalists in Sri Lanka.

“The exceptional marine productivity of the waters under the existing TSS attracts a broad array of marine species, including a diverse and abundant fishing stock. For this reason, hundreds of relatively small fishing vessels fish the waters underlying the TSS. This leads to a very unfortunate situation where many small fishing vessels are present throughout the day and night, operating in extremely close proximity to the traffic lanes.

“In addition, these fishing vessels by necessity transit across the traffic lanes as they position and reposition themselves to harvest in these waters. The nature of the risk is especially obvious at night, when ship masters describe the unnerving sight of numerous small moving lights (from the small fishing vessels) moving in close proximity and across the shipping lanes,” the IMO report explained.

Last week, The Sunday Morning also reported on concerns about gaps in tracking and monitoring Sri Lanka’s fishing fleet and the many thousands of small dinghy boats which remain unregulated at sea.

Minister of Ports, Shipping, and Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva told The Sunday Morning that a delegation which included the Director of Merchant Shipping of Sri Lanka would travel to the UK next month (July) to make Sri Lanka’s case about why the island nation, which has ambitious plans to become a transshipment hub by leveraging its geographical position in the heart of the Indian Ocean, would oppose the request.

Meanwhile, the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) has been tasked with evaluating the IMO report’s data on the alleged impact on critical marine life by the shipping lanes and to submit a report to the Government by the end of the month.  

NARA Director General Dr. Kamal Tennakoon told The Sunday Morning that the agency was moving quickly to prepare a report and submit its findings to the committee.


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