I am honoured to deliver this keynote address at the opening session of the fourth annual “Galle Dialogue”. On behalf of the Government, I take this opportunity to welcome to Sri Lanka the many distinguished foreign speakers and delegates at this conference. I also extend my best wishes to the many illustrious Sri Lankan participants at this event. The Galle Dialogue is fast becoming an important fixture in the calendar of international maritime conferences, as shown by the fact that speakers and delegates from 35 countries are taking part in this event. As with the recently concluded Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, this is a very positive indication of Sri Lanka’s increasing stature in international affairs since the dawn of peace four years ago. This is something about which all Sri Lankans are justly proud.
The very appropriate theme chosen for this year’s Galle Dialogue is “Emerging Maritime Trends in the Indian Ocean”. Throughout history, the Indian Ocean has been a major conduit of international exploration, migration and commerce. Many of the world’s first civilisations evolved around or in proximity to its shores. Trade along or through the Indian Ocean was an important feature from early in human history. Aided by the seasonal monsoons, merchant vessels travelled east and west across the Indian Ocean for many centuries dating back to antiquity. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Persians and Chinese all traversed the Indian Ocean, often stopping in this country, before the first modern Europeans led by Vasco de Gama in 1497 came to these seas. During the era of European colonialism, the Indian Ocean and its littoral nations became sought after possessions of many empires. The British emerged as the major power in the region in the early 19th century. With the rapid development over the last two centuries of Europe, the United States, and later Japan, the Indian Ocean receded temporarily from global prominence. During this period, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans were the world’s most important oceans. In recent years, however, there has been a pronounced shift in focus back to the Indian Ocean. A few simple facts demonstrate why this is.
The Indian Ocean covers more than 73.5 million square kilometres, occupying approximately 20% of the Earth’s sea surface. Bounded by 36 nations and 2 island territories, the Indian Ocean region is populated by nearly 2.5 billion people, or just over 35% of the global population. A very high proportion of the world’s seaborne trade takes place across the Indian Ocean. This includes more than half of the world’s containerised trade, between half to two thirds of the global trade in hydrocarbon resources, and one third of the world’s bulk goods shipments. In addition to being the primary conduit of the oil and coal that fuel the engines of the global economy, the Indian Ocean is in itself an important source of oil and natural gas. Parts of it are increasingly viewed as being amongst the last untapped petroleum frontiers on the planet. As a warm water ocean, the Indian Ocean is also very conducive to the growth of fish stocks, and its vast wealth of biological resources accounts for nearly 20% of the world’s total fish production. Further, the Indian Ocean abounds in non-renewable resources such as industrially valuable minerals and precious metals.
From a geostrategic perspective, the Indian Ocean is becoming more and more important in the current era. The unipolar world that emerged after the end of the Cold War is changing to one where Asian nations such as China and India are gaining in prominence. The rise of these two nations, the rapid growth of intra-Asian and Euro-Asian trade, and the criticality of its sea lines of communication to the global economy have resulted in the Indian Ocean assuming a position of central importance in geopolitics. Major powers, including the United States of America, the European Union nations, Japan, China, and Russia have strategic connections to and interests in this region. The world’s two newest Nuclear Powers, India and Pakistan, are Indian Ocean countries. A high proportion of the world’s political and other conflicts are in countries within the greater Indian Ocean region, which is still impacted by the aftershocks of American intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result of these all factors, and in order to contain the piracy that affects the Indian Ocean’s shipping lanes, many world powers have had a significant naval presence in the Indian Ocean. These include extra-regional nations such as the United States of America, Britain, France, and China, as well as regional nations including India, Iran, Egypt, and Australia. Sri Lanka too is presently engaged in enhancing its naval and coast guard capabilities in the Indian Ocean, and plays its part in improving the safety of the region through other means as well.
Against this backdrop, there are several emerging trends in the Indian Ocean Region that command our attention. The most high profile of these is the piracy and armed robbery by Somali pirates in a region that includes the Arabian Sea, the Gulfs of Aden and Oman, and the southern Red Sea. This piracy has effectively taken the entire shipping community in the Indian Ocean Region under siege. With the withdrawal of foreign forces from Somalia in the mid 1990s, there was a significant escalation of piracy in the Indian Ocean. Incidence of Somali based pirates attacking passing ships and taking crews hostage became more and more common near the end of the last decade, seriously threatening one of the world’s busiest trade routes. The range of the pirates began to increase significantly with the use of mother ships that transported small skiffs to attack and capture commercial and fishing vessels. Ransoms paid for the release of such ships and their crew increased over time, as did the physical dangers posed by the pirates, which led to considerable pressure on the international shipping industry.
In response, several resolutions in the United Nations Security Council after 2008 enabled international action against this threat. Counter piracy coalition forces including the EU Naval Force, NATO’s Standing Naval Maritime Groups, and the Combined Task Force were set up. Regional powers increased naval operations. Despite the presence of these forces, however, incidence of piracy continued to increase between 2008 and 2011, until declining somewhat in the last two years. One of the primary causes for this recent decline has been the increasing presence of armed private security teams on-board merchant vessels. Ship owners as well as insurance underwriters have started to demand the presence of private security teams on board ships crossing the piracy-affected areas of the Indian Ocean. This has led to a change in the policies of many nations with regard to the presence of armed personnel aboard vessels in international waters, and has subsequently enabled a rise in the presence of on board private security teams.
I am pleased to note that Sri Lanka is one of the countries that has taken the lead in providing such security services. The Government created a Maritime Division in a fully state-owned security company to provide weapons and ammunition to private maritime security companies engaged in on board security duties. Later, through a Public Private Partnership with a local private security company, Sri Lanka started to provide vessels with on board teams. These teams include former Navy personnel with considerable experience in combating attacks on sea. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE was the only terrorist group in the world to possess a sophisticated naval wing, known as the Sea Tiger Wing. During the three decades long war in Sri Lanka, which ended with the LTTE’s defeat in May 2009, the Sea Tigers used fast attack craft and even suicide vessels to pose a threat to maritime security in this region. The experience gained from combating such ruthless opponents is invaluable in countering the activities of pirates in international waters.
Apart from the provision of private security teams on board ships, Sri Lanka is also a major disembarkation point for security teams from other countries. The Government provides logistical support for the movement of weapons and ammunition, including the provision of bonded warehouses for their storage. More recently, Sri Lanka has begun operating stringently regulated and secure floating armouries to fulfil this requirement. Utmost precautions are taken to ensure complete accountability for the weapons and equipment provided. Furthermore, the provision of training facilities for Sea Marshals has begun in the very recent past. This is especially important because the International Maritime Organisation requires all Sea Marshals to be properly trained and certified. With the provision of all of these services, Sri Lanka is increasingly gaining recognition as an important contributor to the security of the Sea Lanes of Communication in the Indian Ocean. It is likely that the demand for these services will continue until counter-piracy action by international fleets and continued use of on-board private security combine to deter piracy in this region.
The illicit trafficking of narcotics, weapons and people is another serious issue in the Indian Ocean region. Although narcotics smuggling through land routes is at a higher scale than it is on sea, the volume of drugs that is trafficked through these seas is nevertheless considerable. Opiates from the Golden Crescent and the Golden Triangle are smuggled through the Indian Ocean, along with amphetamine-type substances and cannabis from these areas and other regional countries. Drug cartels use fishing boats, specially modified vessels and even exploit containerised cargo to transport drugs from their points of origin to their destinations all over the world. It should be noted that money generated from the drugs trade has also been linked to terrorism, For example, the LTTE used money it raised from its drug smuggling operations to fund weapons purchases for its terrorist activities in Sri Lanka.
The smuggling of weapons through the Indian Ocean is a serious issue that can have a very detrimental impact on the national security of nations in its littoral. From the mid 1980s until its defeat in 2009, the LTTE managed to smuggle thousands of items of heavy weapons, light weapons, small arms and sophisticated equipment through the sea for its terrorist activities in Sri Lanka. The items smuggled in included heavy artillery, anti aircraft guns, surface to air missiles, mortar, armoured vehicles, communication systems, and even light aircraft. These weapons were illegally procured by the LTTE’s international network and smuggled to Sri Lanka via international waters through more than twenty large vessels and a large number of trawlers registered under different flags. The LTTE’s large vessels lay at anchor in international waters more than a thousand nautical miles away from Sri Lanka, effectively functioning as floating warehouses. Smaller vessels were dispatched to smuggle these items to the coast. During the Humanitarian Operation to liberate the country from the LTTE’s terrorism, the Sri Lanka Navy ventured into distant high seas on five occasions and destroyed eight of these floating warehouses. That this organised and sophisticated weapons smuggling racket has been destroyed in this part of the Indian Ocean has considerably improved maritime security in this region, but the potential exists for similar activities to fuel armed insurgencies and terrorism in coastal nations.
Human smuggling in the Indian Ocean is another major illicit activity that warrants increased international attention. Primarily due to economic reasons but sometimes also due to conflict, large numbers of people from developing countries seek to migrate illegally into wealthier countries such as Australia, Canada and European nations, as well as the Gulf States. Victims of human traffickers will often find themselves in serious trouble, often with their lives at risk. Having sold their properties and given their entire wealth to the smugglers, they will find themselves trapped on board unsafe vessels in terrible conditions alongside hundreds of other illegal immigrants. Even if they survive transit, they are sometimes sold into servitude or more often find themselves stranded in temporary camps at their intended destinations or other countries until eventual repatriation. Despite the risks involved, people smuggling has become a lucrative business for certain criminal groups, some of which are linked to international terrorism and drug trafficking. During the last several years, we have seen vessels such as the MV Sun Sea which belonged to the LTTE have engaged in people smuggling, alongside many smaller operatives active in Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and other countries in the region.
The answer to the illicit trafficking of drugs, weapons, and persons is the increase in cooperation amongst the nations in the Indian Ocean region. Effective sharing of intelligence between countries, increased coordination between law enforcement agencies and Government departments, and establishing bilateral and multilateral mechanisms to combat these issues cooperatively is critical if trafficking is to be prevented. Countries cannot effectively address these issues on their own accord. For its part, Sri Lanka has worked together very closely with Australia on the issue of human smuggling in the recent past. This bilateral effort has been extremely successful. When the Australian Prime Minister visited Sri Lanka during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, he met me, the Navy Commander and other key officials involved in this effort to commend us on its success. The Sri Lankan Government has also worked with the Governments of India and the Maldives on establishing a trilateral agreement for cooperation in surveillance, anti piracy operations and curbing illegal activities. As with the recent increase in coordinated international action on the issue of Somali piracy, an increase in cooperation amongst nations within the Indian Ocean region will be very encouraging from the perspective of maritime security. This increase is a trend that should be further fostered.
Terrorist activity on sea is another potential threat facing the Indian Ocean region. As noted earlier, Sri Lanka has had considerable experience in facing this threat. During its heyday, the LTTE’s Sea Tiger wing posed a considerable danger through its capability to engage Security Forces using semi-conventional tactics, amphibious operations, and suicide attacks. It was also used to induct terrorist cadres to sensitive areas on land via sea, thereby enhancing the LTTE’s deep penetration capability. Although the comprehensive defeat of the LTTE in May 2009 neutralised the threat posed by the Sea Tigers, the possibility remains that groups such as Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and smaller, emerging terrorist and criminal organisations in the region will follow a similar modus operandi to create danger at sea. The fact remains that despite various terrorist groups having differing ideologies and agendas, the experience, tactics and techniques developed by one group can easily spread to others. To some extent, this has already been the case. The LTTE was one of the pioneers of using Fast Attack Craft fitted with outboard motors to engage in sea piracy. The tactics it used were very similar to those adopted much later by Somali based pirates. Sea Tiger tactics could also easily have inspired Al-Qaeda’s suicide attack on the USS Cole in the year 2000. The strategy of infiltration via shore used in the 2008 Mumbai Attacks was also one employed by the LTTE in prior decades.
Although some countries that once proclaimed this ideal have become very selective in their position, the fight against terrorism is a global one against an enemy defined by its deliberate targeting of civilians to achieve its goals. Terrorism should be crushed wherever it emerges, and nations should support each other’s efforts to do so wholeheartedly. Genuine cooperation amongst nations at the highest level is needed for this to happen in a systematic and coordinated fashion. Intelligence sharing, fostering maritime domain awareness through joint operations and combined patrols, and enhancing interoperability amongst Navies is important. The world’s major naval powers should also provide assistance to improve the resources and capabilities of smaller nations in order enhance overall maritime security. For its part, Sri Lanka is proud to have neutralised the threat of maritime terrorism in its waters and remains committed to contributing to the security and safety of the Indian Ocean region. However, for surveillance operations and to carry out patrolling in blue waters, Sri Lanka must obtain naval assets that can operate further away from shore. The support of wealthier nations is sought for the procurement of such assets. In this context, I am particularly appreciative of the Australian Government’s decision to gift two large Bay Class patrol vessels to Sri Lanka next year. Such capacity augmentation will enable the Sri Lanka Navy, which is the best-suited force for this task, to combat illegal trafficking and contribute more to the stability and security of the Indian Ocean.
The maintenance of security is especially important in light of the increasing economic importance of this part of the world. The Indian Ocean influences the global economy in several ways. It is an ocean through which a considerable proportion of global trade takes place. It has been called the global energy superhighway by some commentators because of its role in transporting hydrocarbon fuels from the Middle East to the fast developing economies of China, India and other Asian nations. Much of the industrial production of these nations is in turn shipped to the rest of the world through the Indian Ocean. Therefore, as one of the world’s most important trade routes, the Indian Ocean is extremely critical to the world economy. Maintaining its safety is of paramount importance. This has resulted in the increasing presence of extra-regional naval task forces in the region. It has also led to increasing efforts by regional powers to enhance their blue water capability, and to greater efforts by smaller regional nations to upgrade their navies and coast guards.
The enormous intrinsic value of the Indian Ocean for the countries in the region also needs to be stressed. Fish stocks in its waters contribute significantly to the economies of littoral nations, and have an impact on the global economy by accounting for approximately one fifth of the world’s total fish production. There are a number of threats to these fish stocks that are a cause for international concern, including overexploitation, pirate fishing and marine pollution. There is emerging consensus amongst experts that many fish stocks throughout the world are dangerously close to the point of collapse due to prolonged overfishing over the past many decades. Although the Indian Ocean is still relatively robust in this regard, the danger exists that continued overexploitation would increase it vulnerability to this in future.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing contributes significantly to this potential threat. Some of the methods frequently used in pirate fishing, such as bottom trawling, blast fishing, and even long-line fishing can harm the marine environment greatly, destroying coral reefs and the seabed ecosystem, and even endangering seabirds. Extra-territorial fishing by well-equipped large trawlers from other nations is also especially problematic for local fishing communities in developing nations. Marine pollution through agricultural run off, sewerage and dumping of toxic material including discharge from oceangoing vessels also threatens fish stocks and other organisms critical to sustaining the marine ecosystem. Increasing international attention to these problems in recent years is an encouraging trend. However, concrete action by regional nations to regulate fishing their exclusive economic zones and ensure respect by their fishing communities for other nations’ territorial waters is critical if these issues are to be mitigated in the future.
In addition to its biological resources, the Indian Ocean region has a considerable wealth of energy and non-renewable resources. Much attention has been paid in recent years to the exploration of offshore oil and gas reserves in the Indian Ocean region. As the price of oil rises, the extraction of these hydrocarbon reserves becomes commercially viable and it is likely that the Indian Ocean will feature as a significant source of oil in future. Exploration is already taking place in several parts of the Indian Ocean, notably in the Timor Sea, off the shores of East Africa, and in the Bay of Bengal. Production has also begun in a limited way in some of these areas. In addition to energy resources, the Indian Ocean seabed also has a vast wealth of mineral resources. As pressures on land resources increase, nations are increasingly looking at utilising the resources available to them in the maritime domain, even though there are concerns regarding the commercial viability of their extraction. A significant issue complicating the extraction of seabed resources is determining the extent of the continental shelf over which countries can claim exclusive rights. Increased attention to these issues is another significant emerging trend in the Indian Ocean Region.
More and more attention has been placed on the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean region in recent years. One of the key considerations is maintaining the Indian Ocean as a secure highway for international commerce. Ensuring freedom of navigation, securing its choke points, and reducing piracy are important drivers behind the presence of extra-regional fleets in the Indian Ocean. Given their rapid growth, the fact that China and India are in or are in close proximity to the region is another significant cause of this attention. There is much speculation in the international community about the ambitions of these nations with regard to the Indian Ocean. The intention of both China and India to increase instruments of maritime power is an interesting aspect of great power strategic competition. Much attention is given to the potential tension between Chinese security concerns regarding sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean, which are critical to its economy, and India’s supposed attitude to this region as its backyard. There is also wariness about China’s relationships with India’s near neighbours, and Indian commentators in particular are concerned about ports funded by China in these countries, which they dub “the string of pearls”.
From Sri Lanka’s perspective, India is our largest neighbour and the most important country in the region. Notwithstanding occasional bilateral issues, our social, cultural, economic and political ties are both historic and robust. At the same time, it has to be noted that Sri Lanka’s relationship with China also dates back many centuries, into historic times. Sri Lanka recognised the People’s Republic of China in 1950 and formal diplomatic relations between the two nations were established in 1957. This bilateral relationship is multi-faceted and deep rooted. There is great mutual trust and friendship between the two nations. China has been one of Sri Lanka’s foremost development partners over the last few years, and Chinese support for many infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka is particularly noteworthy. Chinese support for construction of the Hambantota port was instrumental in fulfilling a longstanding need in Sri Lanka to cater to the shipping lines passing south of the island. However, China’s support for the Hambantota Port is commercial in nature, and should not be misconstrued as fitting the “String of Pearls” paradigm. Sri Lanka has always pursued a non-aligned foreign policy. It continues to provide logistical and other support to ships from all countries at our ports, including naval vessels and even warships that travel through the region. There is no reason for this state of affairs to change in future.
Sri Lanka today is a country in the midst of rapid economic development. After having suffered for three decades of war, there is a great pent up potential in this country that is only now being realised. Channelling this potential and ensuring rapid and equitable growth for all our people is one of the primary concerns of the Government in the present era. It is in this context that Sri Lanka has launched an ambitious “5-hub” growth strategy that aims to position the country as a Naval, Aviation, Commercial, Energy and Knowledge hub in this region. The Naval hub concept seeks to maximise the potential of Sri Lanka’s strategic position at the intersection of major international sea trading routes in the Indian Ocean. The world’s busiest East-West shipping lane lies 10 kilometres to the south of the island. The construction of the Magam Ruhunupura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port at Hambantota creates a facility that can provide services to ships traversing this sea line of communication with minimal delay. The port is being developed in three phases as a state of the art port, and once completed it will provide bunkering services, container handling and ship repair facilities, as well as industrial operations in a large free trade zone. The Colombo Port, which is the country’s principal commercial port, is being expanded. The South Harbour Development has created new container terminals and has enhanced the Colombo Port’s capability to cater to projected growth in volumes and handle the largest ships in the world.
Smaller ports around the country are also being developed. The Oluvil Harbour in the South East is being developed as a hub for fisheries and related industries. The Kankasanthurai Port is being rehabilitated to cater to shipping requirements in the North, including facilitating faster trade with India, Myanmar and Bangladesh. The Galle Port is being developed with new facilities including a yacht marina fully equipped with modern amenities, yacht repair and maintenance facilities, tourist information centre, hotels, floating restaurants, and duty free shops. This will cater to the growing interest of tourists arriving aboard cruise ships and private yachts to this historic and compact coastal city. The Trincomalee Port, which is the largest natural harbour in South Asia and fifth largest in the world, was critical to the operations of the Royal Navy of Britain and the Dutch Navy after the fall of Singapore during the Second World War. The development of Trincomalee was greatly hindered for three decades during the terrorist war in Sri Lanka, but the Government is now transforming it into a metropolitan growth centre for North Eastern Sri Lanka. New port infrastructure will be established, including shipbuilding & repair facilities and bunkering & ship services. As with Galle, more tourist facilities are also being developed in Trincomalee.
Sri Lanka has many advantages when it comes to tourism. The country is being increasingly featured in global travel magazines and websites as one of the best destinations in the world to visit. The sheer variety of the experiences it can offer is key to its rising popularity. Quite apart from its impressive historic sites, its many cultural features and its beautiful natural terrain, Sri Lanka offers a host of tourist attractions in the maritime domain. Whales and dolphins can be seen off the Western, Southern and Eastern coasts at various times of the year. Some of the sites available for surfing in the Eastern and Southern coasts are amongst the most attractive in the region. Sailing and parasailing are becoming more and more popular. Sri Lanka’s beaches are also amongst the most relaxed and laid-back in the world. There are beautiful coral reefs with great biodiversity off the coasts, and there are countless other natural features and shipwrecks that are fantastic locations for scuba diving. There is more to be done to further develop and protect these maritime and related attractions, but many tens of thousands of tourists already visit Sri Lanka because of them.
At this critical point in its history, Sri Lanka is keen to attract many more foreign visitors to this country for tourism as well as commercial purposes. There are countless opportunities for investment in a variety of areas, which are being further developed through the 5-hub centred growth strategy adopted by the Government. Sri Lanka emerged from the ravages of a brutal three decades long terrorist conflict less than five years ago. It has made tremendous progress in all areas, which has to be seen to be believed. As it builds on this success to develop further, Sri Lanka needs the support of its friends instead of the criticism and admonishment that seems to feature large on the agenda of certain nations that seek to dwell continually on the past. This is not constructive. Instead, meaningful economic cooperation and the strengthening of genuine diplomatic relationships with its allies is what Sri Lanka seeks. This is precisely what Sri Lanka’s closest allies today readily offer, which is something the entire country is greatly appreciative of.
It is in this context of genuine cooperation and strengthening relationships that events such as the Galle Dialogue are organised. The overall security and stability of the entire Indian Ocean region is critical for the global economy, and Sri Lanka is proud to play its part by fulfilling its responsibilities in its maritime domain. At the same time, fostering greater cooperation and partnership amongst the naval powers active in the region is necessary to support the future prosperity of the Indian Ocean region. I am certain that the presentations, panel discussions and informal interactions that will take place during the Galle Dialogue will be instrumental in this regard. In closing, I wish all participants a very productive and very pleasant time at this conference, and during your stay in Sri Lanka.
I consider it a pleasure and a privilege to address you at the opening session of this year’s “Galle Dialogue”, the annual Maritime Conference organised by the Ministry of Defence of Sri Lanka. I take this opportunity to welcome all our distinguished foreign guests to Sri Lanka, and thank them for their presence here. As you are no doubt aware, or have no doubt seen, Sri Lanka is a beautiful, peaceful and stable island with friendly people and a rich heritage. I have every confidence that you will find your time here very enjoyable as well as productive.
The first Galle Dialogue was held in 2010, under the theme “Charting the Course for Sustainable Maritime Cooperation”. At that Dialogue, participants from 10 nations discussed means to increase operational cooperation between countries with an interest in upholding the security of the Indian Ocean region. Last year’s Galle Dialogue was held on the theme of “Challenges and Strategic Cooperation for Indian Ocean Maritime Concerns”.
Delegates from 19 countries discussed specific threats and concerns regarding maritime security in this ocean region, and discussed the courses of action that needed to be taken to address them.
The theme for this year’s Galle Dialogue is “Strategic Maritime Cooperation and Partnership to face the future with Confidence”. This is a broad theme that reflects the need for nations to look beyond immediate security threats and operational considerations to forge cooperation and partnership at the strategic level. Strategic cooperation and partnership is essential to achieving lasting security, stability and success in the Indian Ocean region. I am pleased to note that delegates from 27 countries are participating at this year’s Dialogue, including several senior representatives from key countries and representatives from several notable think tanks. I hope that the presentations that will be made and the discussions they will have with each other during the course of the next two days would be instrumental in increasing international cooperation and partnership in this region to the benefit of all.
The Indian Ocean region borders more than thirty nations. It contains the world’s largest population segment; a segment that is growing quite rapidly. It is the third largest ocean in the world; one that is rich in resources, with significant reserves of oil, natural gas, minerals and diverse biological resources. Nearly half of the world’s containerised cargo crosses the Indian Ocean every year. Despite adverse global economic conditions, the volume of this cargo shows no sign of declining. If anything, the volume of sea trade across this region has only increased over time. Much of the shipping that takes place in the Indian Ocean is for the purpose of extra-regional trade. The energy security of many nations also depends on ships that transport fuel through this ocean for their power requirements. As a result of these factors, it is not only countries in the region but also much of the rest of the world that has a very keen interest in the safety and security of the Indian Ocean.
Unfortunately, it has to be acknowledged that the Indian Ocean faces a number of threats. Its sheer scale renders it vulnerable to many issues including piracy, terrorism, human smuggling, drug trafficking, Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported fishing, and illegal waste disposal. These are all serious threats to the security, stability and sustainability of the Indian Ocean region. Each of them impact the countries in the Indian Ocean littoral as well as other nations that rely on these seas to varying degrees for trade, energy security and global security.
One of the most disturbing trends in recent years has been the spread of piracy originating from Somalia. The sophistication as well as the operational range of the pirates is constantly increasing, and they now pose a significant threat to vessels that travel far beyond the Gulf of Aden. The outward growth of piracy poses a serious problem to the uninterrupted flow of international trade, and is an issue that requires international intervention. The work being done by several Naval forces active in the region in this regard is laudable.
Sri Lanka, too, is playing a small but significant role in combating piracy. Sri Lankan private sector companies working through the Ministry of Defence have provided on board security to a large number of commercial shipping lines and fishing trawlers that operate in this region. The performance of these companies has received positive recognition in the recent past, and more and more commercial shipping lines are registering with them for the services that they can provide to their vessels.
A second grave issue that affects nations in the Indian Ocean littoral is the threat of terrorism. Time and again, terrorists have demonstrated their ability to exploit unprotected coastlines to cause havoc within nations. During the three decades of terrorism suffered by Sri Lanka, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE, smuggled a vast arsenal of formidable weaponry into Sri Lanka through the sea. This arsenal included heavy weapons such as high calibre artillery, surface to air missiles, anti aircraft guns and other significant assets such as armoured vehicles and light aircraft. These items were illegally procured through the LTTE’s many front organisations and operatives, shipped internationally, and stored in large floating warehouses off Sri Lankan shores. Smaller vessels were dispatched to ferry these items from those floating warehouses to the coastline. This modus operandi can easily be replicated by any terrorist group or non-state actors who have designs on a nation’s sovereignty and security. The 2008 Mumbai attacks are an unfortunate example of this possibility. Similar logistical and operational strategies can also be used by international terrorists who seek to harm wider regional or global interests.
The trafficking of persons internationally is another grave issue that affects nations through the sea. Every year, thousands of illegal immigrants are transported through international waters to other countries. This has had a major impact on the domestic policies and even the electoral politics of many nations. The nexus between human smuggling and terrorism is particularly worrying. After the military defeat of the LTTE in 2009, its international shipping network began engaging in this illegal enterprise in earnest. Charging thousands of dollars per person, LTTE vessels transported thousands of illegal immigrants through international waters to western nations and to Australia. Not only did this allow economic migrants to seek asylum in these countries under false pretences, but even more disturbingly, it allowed trained terrorists to escape justice and pose a threat to the domestic security of the countries they travelled to.
In this context, I am pleased to report that the Sri Lanka and Australia have been working together in the recent past to stop the illegal trafficking of persons to Australia from Sri Lanka. Bilateral dialogue has taken place at a very high level, and operational cooperation through the sharing of information between the respective Navies, Coast Guards and law enforcement agencies has done a great deal to curb this trend. So far this year, the authorities have managed to prevent the illegal immigration of 2,990 people by apprehending the vessels they were travelling in. As the operational cooperation between the responsible parties increases, I am confident that the threat posed by the trafficking of persons will be further curtailed.
Drug trafficking is another very serious criminal activity that poses a threat to the Indian Ocean region. Drug cartels use fishing boats, specially modified vessels and even exploit containerised cargo to transport drugs from their areas of origin in the Golden Crescent and the Golden Triangle to their dealers in countries across the globe. The money generated from the drugs trade has also been linked to international terrorism. For example, it is a known fact that the LTTE used money raised from drug smuggling to fund its acquisition of weaponry to wage war in Sri Lanka. The wider impact of the drugs trade requires nations to take a holistic and multi-pronged approach to the issue of drug smuggling, which not only affects a nation's health and domestic security, but can also have serious ramifications on the sovereignty of countries far away.
In addition to the issues discussed earlier, which have an impact on international and national security of nations, there are two further issues that pose a serious danger to the health of the oceans themselves. Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing has had a tremendous impact on the sustainability of oceanic fish stocks as a result of overexploitation and wasteful fishing methods. The use of illegal fishing gear and practices such as bottom trawling can have major environmental impacts. It is essential for the sustainability of the oceans that more stringent action is taken internationally to curb these practices.
In addition to its environmental impacts, pirate fishing across territorial waters can pose a risk to the livelihoods of fishermen, and causes tension in fishing communities and amongst coastal populations. For example, the large number of fishing boats that come to Sri Lankan waters from South India for fishing is an issue that the Indian Government and the Sri Lankan Government have had to contend with in recent years. The two Governments have taken a number of steps to solve this problem, but more needs to be done to stop the encroachment of these fishing craft to Sri Lankan waters.
This is a particularly acute problem because it has a grave impact on the economic prospects of Tamil fishermen in the North and East of Sri Lanka, who are now rebuilding their livelihoods after decades of suppresson under the LTTE. The fact that these fishermen have to compete with such large numbers of fishing craft that illegally enter our waters has caused great tension and frustration in the newly liberated North and East.
The illegal disposal of hazardous substances as waste into the oceans is another serious environmental issue. Marine pollution caused by the dumping of industrial and other waste into the sea from shore as well as the discharge of waste from oceangoing vessels has serious ramifications on the environment as well as the wellbeing of coastal populations. Economic activity such as tourism in coastal regions is also adversely affected as a result of these practices.
It is clear that individual nations acting in isolation will not be able to effect lasting practical solutions for any of these major issues. With the increasing sophistication of non-state actors in today’s globalised world, the ability that national Navies and Coast Guards have to tackle the problems they cause on their own is limited. The sheer scale of the problems faced is another limiting factor that militates against solutions by individuals nations. Without the sharing of intelligence and vital information, and proper communication and coordination of naval operations, individual states will not be able to address these properly. Given the importance and particular sensitivities of the Indian Ocean region, this will have disturbing consequences for the security, stability and sustainability of the region, and perhaps even the world.
In this context, I am pleased to note that Sri Lanka, India and the Maldives have recently been working on a trilateral agreement for cooperation in carrying out surveillance, anti piracy operations and in curbing illegal activities including maritime pollution. One of the key aspects of information sharing is Maritime Domain Awareness. Through this, data on white shipping will be shared to increase awareness about commercial ships operating in the region. Meetings have already been held at the Ministerial level and at the technical level, and we hope that the Memorandum of Understanding with regard to the trilateral cooperation between our nations will be signed in the near future. I am confident that multilateral agreements of this nature will be greatly instrumental in curbing many of the issues that the naval powers in the region face.
On a similar note, it would be very encouraging if the large navies in operation in the Indian Ocean could increase their cooperation with the smaller naval powers. Even though the smaller navies do not have the resources or naval assets to significantly impact the security of this ocean region on their own, by working together with the large naval powers, they will be able to make a difference. In particular, the sharing of information will lead to greater security overall, which is greatly desirable from the point of view of all nations in the Indian Ocean littoral.
Unfortunately, it has to be admitted that there is a degree of mistrust between the major powers in the Indian Ocean region that presently limits the degree to which effective and long lasting multilateral cooperation can be achieved. India is the largest naval power in the region, and has a vital role to play with regard to the future of the Indian Ocean. The United States of America also has an extremely significant naval presence in this strategic region.
At the same time, it is apparent that the influence of China in the region is also expanding rapidly. China’s military modernisation, its increasing naval presence in blue waters and its expanding economic influence in countries in this region has been viewed with wariness by India and the United States of America. The increasing presence of the Chinese navy in the Indian Ocean, as well as its increasing involvement in counter piracy operations in this region, has also been viewed with some concern by the same powers.
However, China has an industry intensive economy that requires oil imports amounting to more than 200 million tonnes every year. Most of these oil imports are sourced from the Middle East, and then transported through the Indian Ocean to China. It is obvious that the safety and stability of the Indian Ocean is critical for China’s energy security, and its increasing interest and increasing naval presence in this region is quite understandable.
The assistance China has given to many countries for the development of deep water ports in this region has been an even more contentious issue. Chinese investments or investment commitments for ports at Gwadar, Pakistan; Marao, Maldives; Hambantota, Sri Lanka; Chittagong, Bangladesh; and Sittwe, Burma has been termed the “String of Pearls” and a great deal of speculation has surrounded these projects. From the Chinese perspective, as its economy expands through its rapid development, it is only natural that its sphere of economic influence will expand. China has long been an exponent of economic cooperation, and it has been a generous and steadfast friend to many countries in this region, including Sri Lanka. However, the presence of Chinese funded ports in critical positions throughout this ocean region, can be perceived by India as an attempt to encircle it from the south. It is very easy to understand this sensitivity.
From Sri Lanka’s perspective, I wish to clarify that the Chinese investment in the Hambantota port is a purely economic one. On average, more than three hundred ships cross the Indian Ocean approximately ten nautical miles south of Sri Lanka every day. The economic potential this presented was identified long ago, and there has been considerable debate about the best strategy to commercially exploit this potential for many decades. Several previous Governments commissioned feasibility reports on establishing a deep water port in the south of Sri Lanka. However, due to various reasons, including disagreements between the foreign consultants and their local counterparts regarding the most suitable location, these early attempts to establish a deep water port did not succeed.
When His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected President of Sri Lanka, he was keen to get this project off the ground. Because of the then on-going war, and because the country lacked the economic strength to undertake such a project on its own, economic assistance was sought internationally for the construction of this port. As one of Sri Lanka’s key development partners over the last few years, China was an obvious nation to approach. After many requests and representations at the highest level, this assistance was granted. The Chinese interest in the Hambantota port is purely commercial. It should also be noted that most of the largest companies setting up operations at the Hambantota Port are actually Indian companies. Placing the Hambantota Port within the paradigm of the String of Pearls theory is not correct.
It is important to stress that Sri Lanka is a small nation that is nevertheless very strategically placed at a critical location within the Indian Ocean. This has focused the attention of many powers on this country. However, Sri Lanka has always pursued a non-aligned foreign policy, and our only interest is in our economic development. After having suffered for three decades of terrorism, the Sri Lankan people yearn for a better tomorrow. Because our past opportunities for growth were suppressed due to the war, the country does not have the capacity to fund the projects that are necessary to unlock its economic potential. It is only natural that we extend our hands to our friends in other countries. We welcome assistance from anybody who is willing to give it without harsh conditions being attached. This should not be misunderstood as a form of alignment with any one country or another. In fact, there are many development projects going on in Sri Lanka that are funded by India, China, Japan, and many other countries. We value and appreciate all the support and assistance that is rendered to us.
It is in this context, as well as in the wider context of the security, stability and sustainability of the Indian Ocean region, that Sri Lanka has a particular interest in promoting multilateral cooperation between the major powers present in this region. A peaceful and stable Indian Ocean will be to the benefit of all. It is important to note that since the last Galle Dialogue, the world has seen much change take place in the regions around the Indian Ocean and in the Middle East in particular. There have significant changes in countries like Egypt and Libya; a serious escalation in the on-going problems in Syria; and greater tension between Israel and Palestine. Even Afghanistan and Iraq cannot still be said to be fully stable after the changes they have experienced over the past decade. With so much change and uncertainty in the regions so close to us, it is especially important that stability in the Indian Ocean region is fostered. The long-standing democracies in this region require support instead of misguided and counterproductive criticism from some in the international community.
In concluding, I once again wish all the participants at the Galle Dialogue a productive and enjoyable time in Sri Lanka. I hope that the many presentations and discussions that will take place over today and tomorrow will be instrumental in fostering improved multilateral cooperation between the nations with an interest in this region. Greater cooperation and partnership between the naval powers in this region will benefit not only the nations in the Indian Ocean littoral but the entire world, and enable all of us to face the future with confidence.
I consider it a pleasure and a privilege to address you at the opening session of the "Galle Dialogue" Maritime Conference organised by the Ministry of Defence of Sri Lanka.
The Galle Dialogue was initiated in 2010 to facilitate increased cooperation between the nations interested in the security of the Indian Ocean region. During the first Galle Dialogue, the participants held fruitful discussions on the topic "Charting the Course for Sustainable Maritime Cooperation". Building on that theme, this year's Conference deliberates on "Challenges and Strategic Cooperation for Indian Ocean Maritime Concerns".
The Indian Ocean is the third largest ocean in the world, and borders over thirty nations. It is a resource rich ocean, with enormous reserves of oil, natural gas, minerals and a wealth of biological resources.
It is estimated that approximately 60,000 ships cross the Indian Ocean each year, including nearly half of the world's containerised cargo. Only twenty per cent of the cargo transported through the Indian Ocean is traded within the region; the remaining eighty per cent is extra regional.
The energy security of many nations also depends on the Indian Ocean, as the fuel requirements of many industrialising nations is met through the energy resources transported through it. For all these reasons and more, the Indian Ocean's importance in the global context is very great. At the same time, it must be noted that the stability and maritime security of Indian Ocean is vulnerable to external threat.
Perhaps the most eye-catching of these threats is the piracy originating from Somalia, which has steadily become more dangerous during the last decade. Starting as a fairly localised activity in the Gulf of Aden, this piracy has grown to become a threat to ships plying routes far beyond the Somali coast. This is amply illustrated in the fact that more than thirty Somali pirates were apprehended in Maldivian waters not long ago. The Sri Lanka Navy too arrested some Somalis who were suspected of looking to engage in piracy and had drifted towards Sri Lanka. It is clear that the activities of the pirates are spreading at a rapid pace. Thousands of people have been affected by their attacks over the last several years. The total economic cost of piracy, when considering the costs of insurance, naval support, re-routing of ocean traffic and all other steps taken to protect vessels from this threat, has been estimated at close to 10 billion US Dollars per annum.
Existing international maritime laws and practices have proven ineffective in combatting the activities of the Somali pirates. Because merchant vessels were traditionally forbidden to carry weapons, the protective measures adopted by them were often too weak to withstand the escalating sophistication of the pirates. In response to this situation, some countries such as the United States have adjusted their maritime laws to enable private security personnel to travel on board merchant vessels. Sri Lanka, too, provides such security services.
A few countries have even expressed an interest in sending personnel from their national militaries on board merchant vessels to provide protection for those ships, and have requested Sri Lanka's assistance during transit.
While the steps taken by ship owners have been seen to be largely ineffective, interventions made by individual nations in providing greater protection for merchant vessels have not been uniform. It is our belief that the lasting solution to threats of this nature cannot be undertaken by individual nations in isolation, but only through greater international cooperation.
The multilateral efforts undertaken through International Task Forces to contain Somali piracy are laudable in this context. However, it is not enough. The risk posed by the Somali pirates is only one example of the threats facing maritime security. There are others. The best solution to all of them is greater cooperation between the maritime powers.
The lack of a coordinated international effort to uphold maritime security not only affects oceangoing vessels, but also the national security of coastal nations. The Sri Lankan experience in combatting the terrorist organisation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, better known as the LTTE, is instructive in this regard. During the period of the conflict in Sri Lanka, the LTTE smuggled in a formidable arsenal of weapons through its procurement and delivery network. At its peak, the LTTE had an arsenal that included mortar, artillery, anti-aircraft guns, surface to air missiles, armoured vehicles and even light aircraft.
None of these items were made in Sri Lanka. They were manufactured in various parts of the world, illegally procured through the LTTE's many front organisations and operatives, and smuggled to Sri Lanka through the sea. Using over twenty large vessels and a considerable number of trawlers registered under different flags, the LTTE shipped this equipment to Sri Lanka through international waters. Its large vessels lay anchored in international waters more than a thousand nautical miles away from Sri Lanka. Smaller vessels were dispatched to smuggle the items they carried to the coast. During the Humanitarian Operation to defeat LTTE terrorism, which took place between 2006 and 2009, the Sri Lanka Navy went into deep seas on five occasions to destroy eight of these floating warehouses.
The most disturbing implication of the Sri Lankan experience is that the brand of arms smuggling undertaken by the LTTE can be replicated by any terrorist organisation anywhere in the world. Far-reaching measures are needed at the highest level to address this threat in a coordinated fashion. All coastal nations are vulnerable to threats from the sea, and terrorists will exploit the weak points in our defences to their advantage. To combat this threat, it is vital that the maritime powers cooperate by sharing intelligence, and enhance maritime domain awareness through joint and coordinated patrols as well as exercises to enhance interoperability. Providing assistance to improve the resources and capabilities of less advanced naval powers will also enhance overall maritime security.
Another threat facing nations through the sea is the trafficking of persons. After the military defeat of the LTTE in Sri Lanka, the remaining vessels that operated in that group's international supply network began engaging in this illegal enterprise. Charging many thousands of dollars per illegal immigrant, these vessels transported hundreds of people through international waters to western countries such as Canada and Australia. This human trafficking operation carried out by the rump of the LTTE is especially dangerous as it allows trained terrorists to enter other nations in the guise of refugees. Seeking asylum under false pretences, these terrorists not only intermingle with economic migrants and try to escape justice, but they often involve themselves in criminal activities in the countries that accept them and pose a threat to domestic security.
Human trafficking benefits from a legal framework that does not have proper mechanisms to deal with such vessels in international waters. However, nations can work together to minimise this threat effectively. In this regard, I am pleased to note that Sri Lanka has worked closely with the Australian government in the recent past to minimise the incidents of human trafficking originating from Sri Lanka. Through enhancing coastal surveillance, augmenting patrols and putting in place an effective intelligence network between the two countries, this problem has been curtailed to a satisfactory level. However, we know that there are still Sri Lankans, joining together with other nationals, who travel illegally to Australia through third countries particularly in the South East Asian region. More needs to be done regarding this problem, especially through better coordination among the relevant countries.
Drug trafficking is another issue that can affect any nation. Apart from the immediate harms caused through drug smuggling, this racket provides a lucrative source of income for terrorists, insurgents and large criminal networks. Drug cartels maintain a symbiotic relationship with such groups. The LTTE, for example, generated enormous sums of money through their illegal drugs network that operated in Europe, South Asia and South East Asia. The drug infested Golden Crescent was a lucrative source for the LTTE, just as it is for other criminal networks. These networks smuggle drugs using the same modus operandi used by arms smugglers, using fishing boats and specially modified craft to conceal the cargo.
The Sri Lanka Navy has come across many fishing boats transporting drugs across borders. Drugs are also sometimes smuggled in the midst of legal containerised cargo that is processed through the ports. Combating this problem requires greater information sharing, better screening practices and better coordination among nations.
Apart from these threats to nations, Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing poses a risk to oceanic resources. Fishing is an important livelihood to many who live in coastal regions. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing threatens this livelihood. It is estimated that the total economic cost of pirate fishing runs into billions of dollars per annum. The environmental impact of such practices is also devastating. Many species of fish have already been over exploited, and the sustainability of fish stocks is increasingly at risk through overfishing. Use of destructive fishing gear and methods also has severe consequences. Monitoring the problem of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing, is difficult. Acting against it is even more so. This is yet another area in which a concerted regional effort is necessary to mitigate the problem.
Another area of great concern is the marine pollution caused by various methods, including the dumping of industrial and other waste into the sea from shore. The discharge of waste from oceangoing vessels is also a serious problem. Monitoring marine pollution is a difficult undertaking, but even more disturbingly, it is an issue that is not often even addressed by coastal nations. More attention needs to be paid to tackling these common issues, which have a harmful long-term impact on the marine environment.
Given the nature of the common security and environmental threats facing the oceans, it is clear that individual nations acting in isolation will not be able to effect comprehensive or long lasting solutions. In the present era, the increasing sophistication of criminal networks and non-state actors makes it difficult for individual nations to withstand the threats posed by them if they stand alone. That is why Sri Lanka, as one of the smaller naval powers in the Indian Ocean, hopes to see greater cooperation within the region. In particular, the major powers in the region should work together with all affected nations to ensure that the seas are free of hindrance. At the start of this address, I elaborated on the vast importance of the Indian Ocean not only for the regional nations, but also for the world economy. It is in everybody's interest to work together to ensure its safety and stability.
In this context, it is also important to realise that most of the maritime security problems we presently face could have been mitigated at an earlier stage if sufficient cooperation had existed between the naval powers. The piracy originating from Somalia had the space to grow from a small, localised problem into a major maritime threat largely as a result of international inaction. Much the same can be said about the sophisticated criminal networks that engage in drug trafficking. It is imperative that the international community acts with sufficient speed to address future threats before they develop into severe problems. In particular, coastal nations have an important responsibility in ensuring maritime security, and we must not shirk our duty.
As the largest naval power in South Asia, India plays a major role in upholding the maritime security of this region. Sri Lanka too has a part to play, as it enjoys a very strategically significant geographic position in the Indian Ocean. Many major international shipping lanes pass the south of Sri Lanka, only a few nautical miles away from the newly developed Hambantota Port. With sufficient cooperation from the major naval powers in the region, Sri Lanka can play an active and significant role in upholding the safety of these critical sea lines of communication.
Towards this end, Sri Lanka has recently revamped and expanded its Coast Guard Department whilst further strengthening its vastly experienced Navy. If, with the assistance of friendly nations, Sri Lanka can obtain naval assets capable of operating in deep seas, our overall capabilities will be greatly increased. Considering also the warm relationships this country enjoys with the major naval powers in the region, I am certain that Sri Lanka will be able to play a greater role in upholding the maritime safety of the entire Indian Ocean region. This will be to the benefit not only of the regional nations, but to the world.
In concluding, I would like to thank all the delegates for their invaluable presence at this Conference, and express my utmost confidence that the Galle Dialogue will serve its purpose in facilitating and enhancing Strategic Cooperation in the Indian Ocean region.
I am glad to have this opportunity to address you at the Inaugural Session of the Galle Dialogue Maritime Conference, which is being organized by the Ministry of Defence of Sri Lanka. This Conference takes place at an opportune time, one year after the defeat of the LTTE, one of the world's worst terrorist groups, by the Sri Lanka Defence Forces.
The importance of this achievement cannot be overstated. It has not only created the space for an economic resurgence within Sri Lanka, but has also strengthened security and stability in the region as a whole. Furthermore, this military defeat of terrorism is an unprecedented event. There are many lessons that other countries can draw from the Sri Lankan experience. One of the reasons behind the organizing of this Conference is to provide a forum for this exchange of information to take place.
The LTTE, which caused enormous suffering in this country for three decades, was no ordinary terrorist group. It had a well-organized international network that provided both funding and logistical support to its domestic outfit. It also had a network of operatives within Sri Lanka that had infiltrated every part of the country. It had a ruthless ground force, a fledgling air force, and a sophisticated naval wing. At its height, the LTTE not only controlled a large area of land but, crucially, up to two thirds of Sri Lanka's coastline.
The LTTE's naval power and its control over so much of the coastline was a grave threat to this country. Their ability to attack our naval vessels, as well as attack targets on the mainland using the sea, was a significant security challenge. The arms, ammunition and equipment that it procured and smuggled in through international waters posed an even greater problem. Over the years, as depicted here, the LTTE managed to bring in thousands of items of heavy weaponry, including heavy artillery, mortars, multi barrel rocket launchers, and anti aircraft systems. They also managed to smuggle in sophisticated equipment, including aircraft, communication systems, missiles and torpedoes with which they greatly enhanced their offensive capabilities.
The mechanism through which these items were brought to Sri Lanka is worth elaborating. As mentioned earlier, the LTTE had a large network of activists around the world that raised funds to support their separatist ambitions. By engaging in various criminal activities, including extortion, smuggling, and various kinds of fraud, as well as by tapping sympathizers in the Diaspora, this network generated a constant flow of funds. These funds were used to procure arms, ammunition and equipment from various sources. These items were stored at large warehouses in strategic locations abroad, and when needed were transported to Sri Lanka through international waters.
The ships that the LTTE used were often purchased under false pretences at international auctions. The ships travelled under different guises, hoisting flags of various countries and changing their names from port to port. Instead of travelling to Sri Lanka, where detection could lead to an attack and the destruction of their cargo, these ships became virtual floating warehouses that lay thousands of miles away in international waters. Smaller vessels, such as trawlers, were then used to transport the weaponry in batches to terrorist bases on the coastline. Even during this phase of the operation, the boats were usually disguised as fishing vessels, and the weaponry was hidden within false hulls.
Through this financial and logistical chain, the LTTE obtained various sophisticated equipment, all sorts of heavy weaponry and enormous quantities of ammunition with which it engaged our Defence Forces over the years. It is pertinent as well as disturbing to note that much of this activity took place in a post 9-11 world, despite increased global awareness and sensitivity about the dangers posed by international terrorism. The LTTE's financial network operated with varying levels of impunity in many countries. The weapons they procured quite often came from unscrupulous sources within respectable nations. Finally, their cargo ships travelled mostly unimpeded through international waters.
Over the years, through the obtaining of intelligence about these floating warehouses, the Sri Lanka Navy was able to engage and destroy ten vessels, often by going over a thousand miles into the deep sea. The destruction of these ships, as depicted here, was a key factor in crippling the LTTE's ability to sustain itself. In this context, alongside the crucial blows it dealt to the LTTE's naval outfit-known as the Sea Tigers-the Sri Lanka Navy was instrumental in reducing the efficiency of the LTTE's ground operation. The contribution made to the defeat of the LTTE through this dismantling of its armaments supply chain cannot be overstated. In addition, through its destruction of the LTTE's naval capability, the Sri Lanka Navy justly deserves commendation for clearing the Indian Ocean of overt maritime terrorist activity.
At the same time, we must realize that although the LTTE has been militarily defeated in Sri Lanka, its international network remains largely intact. In May this year, a vessel named the MV SUN SEA was reported to be off Thailand waters. The MV SUN SEA is a general cargo ship believed to be carrying more than 200 immigrants including a considerable number of LTTE cadres, and is heading towards Canadian waters. This voyage is part of the LTTE activists human smuggling operation that began after the military defeat of the LTTE in Sri Lanka.
Charging anything between US$15,000 to US$40,000 per immigrant, this human smuggling operation poses a significant threat, because it allows trained terrorist cadres to enter other nations while disguised as civilians or refugees. It should be noted that these operations benefits from a lax legal framework that prevents the detention of such vessels while in international waters.
It is vitally important that all maritime nations realize the threats they face from the sea. Transnational crimes, whether human smuggling, piracy, drug trafficking, terrorism or the smuggling of supplies for terrorism, have space to take place because of the lack of adequate domination of the sea. The increasing number of sea going vessels and their growing diversity makes the identification of potential threats very difficult. It still not that difficult for small vessels to slip through coastal defences and even allow trained terrorists, like the Mumbai bombers, to slip into countries and wreak havoc. Threats also exist to Sea Lanes of Communications, such as those that cross this region. Given the vast quantities of cargo that cross these Sea Lanes on a daily basis, they are vital to international trade and energy security. A threat to them is a threat to peace. Countries must realize that with the increasing sophistication displayed by non-state actors in this era, the first line of defence is shifting beyond the shore.
In this regard, the message that I want to stress most clearly at this forum is the urgent need for greater international cooperation in terms of maritime security. As the Sri Lankan experience demonstrates, a terrorist organization was able to procure and transport sophisticated equipment, heavy weaponry, and vast quantities of ammunition over international waters for many years without much difficulty. Even to this day, the same network engages in the dangerous game of human smuggling. There are legal difficulties relating to the ability of a country to intervene with regard to such threats in international waters. It must be said that despite the existence of various treaties, there was insufficient commitment at a multilateral and bilateral level to combat the LTTE's transnational operations. It is this lack of effective intervention arising from an outmoded legal framework and inadequate multilateral commitment to combating transnational crimes that needs to be addressed if we are to successfully face future challenges to maritime security.
Robust ties need to be established between the maritime powers in the region not just at the diplomatic level but even more importantly at the operational level. Ineffective treaties extolling cooperation and token joint naval exercises are no longer enough. There has to be a deep-rooted commitment to cooperation amongst these powers. Proper intelligence sharing and timely communication between the Navies is essential. If a suspicious vessel is sighted, the relevant authorities in other nations should be contacted to determine its provenance. If, once challenged, the vessel cannot give a valid answer as to its business, the relevant Navies should be alerted and proper steps taken to ensure that any potential threats are nullified in time.
This level of international cooperation will only be achieved once we all realize that no matter how powerful we are individually, so long as we act in isolation, we will be ineffective against threats arising from the transnational operations of non-state actors. While the further strengthening of diplomatic ties remains essential in achieving this understanding, it is our sincere hope that your Dialogue at Conferences such as this one will encourage further cooperation at an operational level. If we act together to oppose the shared threats we face, we will be able to stand firm and uphold our security. If we do not cooperate with one another, and are forced to continue to act in isolation, we will all be at risk.
In conclusion, I would like to wish all the delegates present here an informative, productive and enjoyable few days in Sri Lanka. I am sure that a lot of hard work has gone into the preparation of Papers by our distinguished presenters, and I am aware that the organizers have gone to great lengths to ensure that the Conference is a success. Special mention should be made of the assistance provided by the Near East South Asia (NESA) Centre of the United States, which assisted in numerous ways. The Conference has been named the "Galle Dialogue". It is my sincere hope that the dialogue it prompts both formally and informally amongst the participants over these two days will promote greater and more effective cooperation in the region as a whole.