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Sorry, we are only protecting ourselves- SL Navy Chief to Karuna

20 December 2013 10:48 am - 6     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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While claiming that the Sri Lanka Navy will continue arresting Indian fishermen, who are entering Sri Lankan waters for poaching, Navy Commander Jayanath Colombage today said Sri Lanka Navy only protecting themselves.

“The only deterrent for poaching we came across so far is arresting and we are doing it, of course Mr. Karunanidhi came up with the statement that Sri Lanka Navy trying to make the Bay of Bengal into an open air prison! Sorry sir, we are not doing that, we are only protecting ourselves. We are not interfering in their business. They would argue that the fishing is a livelihood business in Tamil Nadu, and I would say it is a livelihood business for Sri Lankans fisher folks, but it is multimillion dollars fishing industry for Indians. It is the disparity or the context of the whole issue that need attention,” the Navy Chief said.

The navy commander made this comment addressing the Marine Conservation Conference 2013 at the BMICH recently.

THE FULL SPEECH

Doctor HiranJayawardhana, distinguished invitees, the media, ladies and gentlemen, a very good morning to all of you.

I would like to thank the IOMAC for inviting me to deliver the keynote address of this important conference on marine conservation. In case anyone is wondering why the Commander of the Navy should talk about marine conservation, my answer is that we are the people at sea. The Ocean is our domain and when we are not at sea, we are on the coast where ocean marries the land. Therefore I think it is the Navy or the Coast Guard that spends more time at sea than anyone else. Of course, if you are a merchant mariner you may come close to that. And if I give an example from my career, I have served for 35 years and out of that about 8 years totally was at sea and balance period near the coast. So we do have a commitment, we do have a greater affiliation with the ocean and the coast and we are really interested in preserving this for us and also for the future generation.

We do observe things at sea, that is part of our duty. We are not only looking for the enemy or for illegal activities but we observe thing because there is nothing else to do when you are at sea other than observing. We collect data, we report what is happening at sea, and most of all we observe the changes that are taking place. We heard at the introductory speeches that there is a requirement for regulatory mechanisms. We can have the legislation but who would enforce the legislation? So there again the Navy and the Coast Guard have a key role to play in implementing whatever the legislations   that the country can come up with.

Earlier we were talking about only the Navy but we have another dimension to that. That is the Coast Guard. Sri Lanka is privileged to have a separate Coast Guard which is going to be an independent department in the future. Right now the Coast Guard and the Sri Lanka Navy are functioning under one umbrella. But the Coast Guard will be focusing more on preventing maritime pollution, coastal conservation and rescuing of life at sea. And their jurisdiction will be limited to the most critical area of marine conservation that is within the limits of territorial waters. And our Coast Guard is coming out of age with additional platforms, manpower and additional enhancement of their responsibilities.

If I may talk about Sri Lanka and also about the Indian Ocean, because that is where we are, I will argue that the Indian Ocean is becoming, if not already has become the key ocean in the 21st century. When we look at the 19th and 20th centuries, it was the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean which played a pivotal role in the world affairs. Whether it was war, economic development or technological development, those two oceans played a key role. However now I would argue the Indian and Pacific Oceans has replaced and still I opined that the Indian Ocean is playing even more important role than the Pacific Ocean in world affairs today. And if I may give you some statistics; 70% of the world oil and 50% of world’s container traffic is transported through the Indian Ocean. And we all know emerging economic giants and emerging maritime powers are either in the Indian Ocean or very close to the Indian Ocean; namely India and China. Hence, the world system, the world economy, the world trade all depends on the Indian Ocean. In this context, where is Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, I would argue the best possible location one can imagine of. We are at the center of the Indian Ocean equi-distance from the land on to the east and to the west with our southern neighbors being penguins!

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are in a marvelous position in the Indian Ocean. With this therefore comes an added responsibility to shoulder, we have to ensure the freedom of the sea lines of communications, we have to ensure that the freedom of maritime trade is taking place uninterruptedly for our sake and for the sake of the whole world. And I’m sure if you are reading the news these days, you would see a lot of attention is coming our way. Why, because we are in the strategically important position in the Indian Ocean. The presence of naval platforms in the Indian Ocean has sky-rocketed. Earlier there were only a very few naval platforms that would be in the Indian Ocean. And those would be from mostly the littoral countries of the region. Not anymore, the piracy at the Horn of Africa has paved the way for many nations who are not in the Indian Ocean region to come and stay and also to visit many ports in the Indian Ocean.

If I may give you one example, just 2 weeks ago in Port of Colombo we had 5 Russian ships, 2 Japanese ships and 1 Indian ship! Imagine 8 war ships in one harbour within a week. It will argue well on our economy because they spend some money to obtain bunkers & services. However, that also means that there is an increased risk of marine environmental pollution. Whether this new trend is going to stop or not, I do not know. But we have to be mindful of that fact.

Let me now focus my attention to Sri Lanka. When I talk about Sri Lanka two visionary statements from our history I come across. One was said by the great king Parakramabahu. He said not even a drop of water falling from the sky should be allowed to flow into the sea without being used. Did he only say that? No he meant it! He built tanks, reservoirs, irrigation systems and he even built ships to engage with trade with Myanmar. He was sending emissaries to South India. But, after that unfortunately, I believe over a period of time we lost the maritime affinity as a nation. However, in 2010 on Mahinda Chinthana forward vision, we came across another vision statement. That is basically, the vision to be the “Wonder of Asia”. Now, how’s that vision to be the ‘Wonder of the Asia’ going to be achieved, through the five hubs, among these five hubs, the maritime hub is our focus. That is my responsibility.

We have been a maritime nation, I would like to argue, as we had the ship building capability, we had the ship repair capability and we became the center of the sea borne trade. Great explorers like Ptolemy from the west and Chinese Admiral Zheng Hi from the east have visited here. These are not my words; these are coming from the chronicles, stone inscriptions, various other excavated archeological materials, coins etc that Sri Lanka was the center of trade at that time, especially during the ancient silk route time. Now, I believe the history is repeating itself. Now I believe we are going through a maritime renaissance. We have the potential to be the center of the new silk route, carrying forward the vision of His Excellency the President.

I would analyze that all five hubs, have a dimension at sea, whether it is knowledge, energy, commerce, aviation or maritime. Maritime obviously, but I would argue all the five hubs have the same relevance to the ocean and there are many enablers, about 18 key enablers, which we have to fulfill, if we have to be a maritime nation once again. One such key enabler is the protection of the maritime or the marine environment. We all talk about sustainable economy, we talk about Green Economy. We all know the Rio summit or the Rio plus Twenty. While the Rio was focusing on the planet earth, the Pacific countries were focusing on planet water and they came up with the idea of the Blue Economy. Now isn’t that the same thing what we are talking about? The Blue Economy; that is exploitation of marine resources, whether it is living or non-living in a sustainable and most environmental friendly manner. The conservation of marine environment will be very easy if we don’t fish, if we don’t explore, if we don’t go to sea. That is the best way to protect the marine environment. But can we afford to do that? We simply cannot because we have to live from the sea.

But how do we exploit this in a sustainable manner, by allowing reproduction by allowing future generations to use it, are the task ahead for all of us. Now if I talk about the Sri Lanka Navy and our commitment to protection of marine environment, it is very essential that island nation like us has a strong Navy, has a strong Coast Guard, which can actually discharge their duties at sea effectively. Dr. HiranJayawardana mentioned it and the two messages coming from the two honourable ministers spoke about the same thing. Now in today’s context I am proud to say we have a victorious navy, we have a well experienced navy, we have a trained navy and we have a highly professional navy and we are gearing ourselves to meet the post conflict challenges.

During the conflict we focus our attention on defeating the enemy but now the challenges are different. Incidentally these days we are celebrating the Navy Day week. The Navy is 63 years old. The Navy has evolved, Navy has come a long way and we do understand the new challenges that are emerging in present day’s post conflict situation, and we are committed to do our duty, to do our duty to island nation. Our main effort, our main concern will be sustainable exploitation of living and non-living resources of the ocean. Very soon, I hope we will have sufficient quantities of hydrocarbon in commercially viable exploitation quantities, and when that happens we have to protect those resources. That is where the Navy comes to the picture again. We are also very keen on the coastal protection, we are losing coast gradually because we are doing lots of damage to the coast and we have taken certain initiative on our own, jointly with other agencies in protecting this valuable important asserts to our country.

    We also contribute in many discussions forums in protecting the marine environment. One recent example I can give you is the Galle Dialogue 2013, the Navy’s annual maritime conference. When we start Galle Dialogue in 2010 we had only 11 countries but this time we had 35 countries represented. Now that’s the quantum leap that gives many indication on the strategic importance of the location where we are and what we are doing. Galle Dialogue, we all know is an initiative of Secretary of Defence and Urban Development Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa and in this time Galle Dialogue we included a paper on marine environment protection which was delivered by the Maldivian delegation because they are most threatened in the Indian Ocean from the impact of environment. We are determined to address this issue more in coming Galle Dialogue meetings. We also have various dialogues with other countries; bilateral, tri lateral and sometimes regional, we bring these points to the notice of them in preventing the possible environmental pollution.

Another area that Sri Lanka Navy is very concern is the Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing. It is no secret that we have a huge problem on our Northern and North Eastern and the North Western coast with poaching by Indian boats. Now they are utilizing a very destructive method of fishing that is bottom trawling which is actually scraping the bottom that destroys our coral reefs, sea grass, smallest species which is of no use. Out of what they take out from the ocean about 35% is called the by-catch which is of no use and they put it back to the sea but by that time it is gone. We all know that once you break a piece of coral and even throw it back it is of no use. Just day before yesterday we arrested 23 Indian fishing boats about 200 people.  That’s the only deterrent we have, we can’t shoot at them, and we can’t do anything else despite we talk at various forums.

And if we allow this to continue, we will lose our livelihood, it will have a negative impact on our economy and it will have a very negative impact on our fishing community across the provinces. Hence, we are very much keen to prevent that and we bring to the notice of everyone the danger of poaching. Now if we think only the Indian fishing fleet is engaged in illegal fishing methods it is not so. Many Sri Lankan fishermen are also engaged in destructive fishing such as dynamite fishing, light-course fishing, unauthorized nets like, purse seine, ‘disco’ etc. The Navy together with the Ministry of Aquatic  and Fisheries, doing a great job in preventing and curbing this menace of illegal acts by our fishermen as well.

The only deterrent for poaching we came across so far is arresting and we are doing it, of course Mr. Karunanidhi came up with the statement that Sri Lanka Navy trying to make the Bay of Bengal into an open air prison! Sorry sir, we are not doing that, we are only protecting ourselves. We are not interfering in their business. They would argue that the fishing is a livelihood business in Tamil Nadu, and I would say it is a livelihood business for Sri Lankans fisher folks, but it is multimillion dollars fishing industry for Indians. It is the disparity or the context of the whole issue that need attention.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, fishery protection is the one of the key tasks of the Sri Lanka Navy and the Coast Guard in the post conflict situation. So I will conclude the fishing issue at that point right now.  Sri Lanka Navy is not stopping merely at law enforcement is engaged in maritime leisure activities as well, like running whale watching cruisers, sand bank cruisers. Now we heard the need to regulate whale watching and there is one gentleman who is really opposing, he would always call this as ‘whale chasing’, and are we really doing whale chasing? Or are we really chasing the whale away from our most beautiful locations. That is something we need to discuss. Navy has proposed on many occasions that we need regulations on the leisure industry. I would argue that we are pretty good at beach tourism but we are not so good beyond the beach tourism. Marine Life beyond the beaches is a matter for us to see but not to disturb, we have to have them, we should not chase them otherwise we will not have whales in our waters.

I am with the honourable Minister and of course with Dr. Jayawardane in preventing that, whatever the Navy can do in preventing ‘whale chasing’ we will do it with you onboard. The navy is taking extra effort in whatever the ventures we do, to do it with minimum impact on the marine or the coastal environment and to continue in a sustainable manner. Safety of life at sea is another key concern of the Navy and the Coast Guard. We all know a few months ago there was a cyclonic effect and we lost about 50 fishermen. Subsequently we carried out an education campaign and ask them, the fishermen to wear a life jacket. Barely a week back one fishing boat capsized and they all survived, why? Because, they were wearing life jackets! I must say that our fishermen are a brave lot, they says that they don’t need life jackets as they have been with sea for long, but not really helpful when in emergency situations.  Even when I am being with sea for 35 years, still I would prefer to wear a life jacket, if taking passage on a small boat, because anything can happen at sea.

The Navy has always helped the authorities in maritime domain, we have helped IOMAC, the NARA, we have helped in gathering data on various marine mammals through observations, river flume observation, collection of samples, gathering of scientific data and we sure will continue. The Navy also built a boat for Ruhuna University which is been used to carry out various research and surveys at sea. We will continue to do our part. We are also developing the naval hydrographic capacities. This is a very pivotal area where we have not developed to full potentials. Besides, there is a huge danger in others offering to do surveys in our waters, there are many, who wants to come to our waters and they say they will offer you training, platforms and also would share the data. Why are they so interested? We have to be mindful when someone is offering a hydrographic or a bathymetric survey in our waters for free. Nothing comes in this world free ladies and gentlemen. They have some agenda, so you have to be very mindful. The answer is that we have to develop that capability ourselves to carry out surveys in our waters. We all know the surveys that other countries are doing and really don’t know the intended purposes. So how can the Navy helped in this endeavor? We can develop Private Public Partnerships, and I do not see any point in blaming the Government or Government departments, well, I don’t like to be blamed but I would like to collaborate for work.

We, the Navy can develop Public and Private Partnerships in preserving the marine conservation; we can gather and disseminate whatever the relevant information because we are an agency at sea. We can promote education on key conservation issues because we are on the coastal area, we are living alongside the fishermen, and we are located among the fishing villages. We can contribute towards marine and coastal conservation which we are doing in a big way. Even on mangrove re-plantation, the Navy is doing several projects. I think we have planted about 50,000 mangroves around the coast and they are blossoming. We can share our expertise as we have several specialists, you see half of the audience is in uniform and from the Navy and the Coast Guard, and why they are here, because, they are keen on learning and they are keen on sharing the experience and we can enforce regulations and we can assist in capacity building.

Whether it is the boats, whether it is other equipments, we are ready to help you in capacity building. Well, ladies and gentlemen, with this I come to the end of my Key-Note address but I like to end my talk with something that I heard about a week ago. This I heard from the Chief Incumbent of the Mirisawetiya temple in Anuradhapura, The Chief Prelate told me about the ocean. I am not going to deliberate this point but this is food for thought, The venerable Priest told me that the ocean tastes salty everywhere, the ocean deepens gradually, what we put into the ocean is thrown back to the shore, ocean has many riches, gold, diamond, the oil but she is not proud, ocean knows its limits it always end up at the coast, ocean treats every fish alike, many rivers are bringing water to the ocean but it remains the same, the ocean is always for others.

So with that thought I will leave you and thank you for giving me this opportunity and I really appreciate the initiative of Dr. Jayawardane and of course my good friend, Chithral of John Keels, whom I have spend hours talking about maritime environment sitting on that beautiful chair at Chaya Blue, so let’s get together and we are ready to play our role and we will be partners in progress.
Thank you very much indeed.         
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  Comments - 6

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  • Dave Thomas Friday, 20 December 2013 01:37 PM

    Thank you very much for protecting your beautiful island.

    siri Saturday, 21 December 2013 04:00 AM

    we got ideal Navy Cdr, sri lankan will very proud of you.

    rm Saturday, 21 December 2013 12:42 PM

    well done sir excellent we proud of u

    lkboy Friday, 20 December 2013 11:32 AM

    well said sir!

    Jayaseelan Sunday, 22 December 2013 01:04 AM

    AS a Tamil, I like your statements because we don't want Indian Tamils to steal our wealth as encouraged by Tamil Nadu who conspire to occupy Jaffna and the rest of North via LTTE politicians in the North including Vineswaran. Sri Lanka is only for Sri Lankan Tamils!!!

    Jayasiri Friday, 20 December 2013 11:40 AM

    Excellent speech and lots of points to ponder. Salute you Sir.


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