Ranil wants navigation codes for Indian Ocean

Wenceslaus Anthony 

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has called on global powers and seafaring countries to put in place navigation codes applicable to the Indian Ocean to prevent military conflicts and unacceptable traffic.

Citing movement of military vessels, human trafficking and drugs smuggling as disturbing developments, he appealed to all countries using the waters of the Indian Ocean to agree on a code of conduct (in the first instance) for military vessels.

“Already, Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China have agreed to prepare such a code for the South China Sea. The Indian Ocean Code of Conduct can be similar to the Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and China regarding the rules of engagement for safety in air and maritime encounters,” he said.

Mr Wickremesinghe was delivering the Annual Oration of the Deakin Law School of the Deakin University in Geelong, near Melbourne, Australia on February 14, 2017 after receiving an Honorary Doctorate for his significant contributions in reforms in education and economy in Sri Lanka.

In his extensive Oration that covered various aspects of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which defines the conduct of nations and other users of international waters, management of maritime resources and other matters, Mr Wickremesinghe said that the critical security concerns identified after UNCLOS 1982 should be addressed to ensure the effectiveness of the freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean.

Ten Choke Points

“The Indian Ocean has ten choke points, including the Cape of Good Hope, the Mozambique Channel, Ba-bel Mandab, the Suez Canal, the Straits of Hormuz, Maldives Channels, Malacca and Singapore Channel, the Sunda Strait, the Lombok Straits, and the Ombai and Wetar Straits. These are vulnerable to attacks by both state and non-state actors. Even though Articles 34 to 44 make provision for International

Straits and transit passages, and Article 46 to 54 refer to Archipelagic states, these Articles are insufficient to safeguard navigation in the Indian Ocean,” he said.

Australia has already cautioned that state and non-state actors could hide among non-combatant traffic and that the threat of submarines could become particularly dangerous in choke points and shallower littoral focal areas.

Mr Wickremesinghe said that Maritime Terrorism is a new phenomenon in the Indian Ocean and that the nature of terrorist activity has undergone far-reaching changes from the LTTE Sea Tigers to the present terrorist operations off the Arabian seas, which include the hijacking of commercial ships.

“UNCLOS does not have adequate provisions to address these issues. Furthermore, Article 100 of the Convention, which reflects customary international law, requires an act of piracy to have been committed for private ends. In contrast, the aim and objectives of terrorist movements are by and large political,” he said.

Potential terrorist and pirate attacks and disruption by non-state actors is a grave threat to the Indian Ocean – not foreseen in UNCLOS 1982. Simultaneous disruptions at two choke points cannot be ruled out and the delay taken to organize a naval task force will cause havoc to the Global Economy,” he added.

Mr Wickremesinghe was on a four-day state visit to Australia from February 13 to February 16, 2017 during which he held official talks with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Victoria State Governor Linda Dessau and other officials.

As an invited guest, I had the opportunity to discuss issues of interest to New Zealand with Mr Wickremesinghe, Deputy Foreign Minister Harsha de Silva, Ports and Shipping Minister Arjuna Ranagtunga, Irrigation and Resource Management Minister Gamini Wijith Wijayamuni Zoysa and other officials in the delegation. The bilateral relationship between New Zealand and Sri Lanka have bright prospects, following the visits of John Key the then Prime Minister to Sri Lanka in February 2016 and the visit of Mr Wickremesinghe to New Zealand in September 2016.


  1. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with Deakin University Chancellor Professor John Stanhope and Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane Den Hollander on February 14.

(Picture Courtesy: Daily News, Colombo, Sri Lanka)

  1. Wenceslaus Anthony with Victoria State Governor Linda Dessau and Praveen Chirra of India New Zealand Business Council at Melbourne on February 15.
  2. Wenceslaus Anthony with Ranil Wickremesinghe in Melbourne on February 15

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