Sri Lanka Commerce Security Challenges

Sri Lanka Commerce Security Challenges

Port growth transformS the nation into a global maritime hub


Since its 30-year civil war ended in 2009, Sri Lanka has moved toward becoming a major center of international commerce. The Ports Authority of Sri Lanka has been expanding the size and capacity of its largest port, the Port of Colombo.

The port transfers more than 5 million
20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of containerized cargo annually, including more than 70 percent of transshipment containers of Indian origin, the Asian Development Bank reported. The port has ranked 28th out of the world’s 50 busiest ports since 2015, according to the World Shipping Council. To date, the Sri Lanka Ports Authority has three new 2.4 million TEU-capacity terminals underway at Colombo, the first of which is already in operation.

Not only is Sri Lanka a rising star in the world of international logistics and commerce, but its strategic location has made it a hub for naval and coast guard ships from around the world. According to the Sri Lanka Navy, 57 naval and coast guard ships made port calls in 2016, including ships from India, the U.S., and Canada. Visits have ranged in purpose from goodwill and humanitarian aid to training and refueling.

Sri Lanka’s disastrous monsoon flooding in May 2017 also opened a new venue for positive multinational engagement when military ships from India, the U.S., and China came to provide disaster and medical aid. Prior to the flooding, interaction with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy was strained when a PLA submarine port call was protested by India in 2014. Most recently, the Chinese Naval hospital ship Peace Ark made its first port visit to Sri Lanka in August 2017.

Increasing illegal activity

Friendly international military port calls and oceanic transport, unfortunately, are not the only maritime events on the rise. The trafficking and consumption of drugs, particularly heroin, are increasing. Sri Lanka’s proximity to the Golden Crescent (Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan) and the Golden Triangle (Burma, Laos, Thailand) has made Sri Lanka a fast-growing transit point for drugs for east and west routes.

For example, heroin moves from India and Pakistan to Sri Lanka by container vessel and commercial fishing craft. One popular route has three segments: Pakistan to Mumbai (facilitated by transnational criminal organizations), then to Indian coastal towns such as Tuticorin or Rameshwaram and then to Sri Lanka by sea. The second route is more direct through Pakistan into southern India. Transnational criminal organizations use money generated from this illicit transport to fund international terrorism. During the first half of 2017, Indian authorities interdicted 115 kilograms of heroin across the Tamil Nadu coastline, which runs along the southeastern coast of India. In May 2017, Sri Lankan police seized 200 kilograms of heroin, the largest seizure since 2013 when 260 kilograms were confiscated.

Workers dredge sand to expand the size of the port of Colombo, Sri Lanka, in March 2017. [REUTERS]

With the influx of international commercial transport and drugs, maritime security in Sri Lanka has taken center stage. Sri Lanka is participating in regional maritime initiatives to enhance regional cooperation and address such maritime challenges. During the past two years, Sri Lanka has worked with the U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) and the U.S. Department of State to increase its maritime security capabilities. In August 2017, the U. S. Department of State’s Export Control and Related Border Security Program provided training to 33 customs officials on identifying high-risk shipments and improving cargo targeting capabilities. The training will help customs officials to better identify which shipments need physical inspection. In late 2017, the U.S. decided to transfer a U.S. Coast Guard cutter to Sri Lanka to enable its Navy to more effectively police its coastline and exclusive economic zone.

Training with JIATF West 

In July 2016, USPACOM’s counterdrug task force, Joint Interagency Task Force West (JIATF West), partnered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to begin providing law enforcement training for counternarcotic and maritime skills. Thus far, three training events have taken place. For the first, JIATF West sent the Integrated Maritime Skills (IMS) Team, whose instructors represent an elite group of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard members who specialize in maritime law enforcement and small boat maintenance and handling.

It was the first time JIATF West conducted trilateral counterdrug training with the Sri Lanka Coast Guard and Navy and the Bangladesh Coast Guard at Mirissa Coast Guard Base on the south coast of Sri Lanka. The training was designed to help members develop compliant boarding skills and law enforcement best practices including handcuffing and baton techniques.

The second event, a Narcotics Investigation Course sponsored by DEA New Delhi, took place in February 2017 with members of Sri Lanka’s Police Narcotics Bureau. The third training event, also sponsored by DEA New Delhi, was a small boat repair and maintenance course taught by JIATF West’s IMS Team. The 10-day course took place in April 2017 with 39 members of the Sri Lanka Navy Special Boat Squadron and Fast Attack Flotilla.

Key Commerce Center  

The maritime security provided by Sri Lanka is critical in maintaining the flow of commerce in the Indian Ocean Region. The Sri Lanka Navy and Coast Guard have many years of experience fighting maritime terrorism because they had to contend with the Sea Tigers, the naval wing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE), which was largely funded by drug trafficking, during Sri Lanka’s 30-year civil war. Though the threat of the LTTE was removed in 2009, Sri Lanka now must contend with piracy, drug trafficking and other threats such as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. With more smuggling taking place on fishing and sailing vessels, the use of smaller attack fast boats to maintain maritime security will likely become more prevalent. JIATF West hopes to continue building a relationship with the Sri Lanka Navy and Coast Guard by providing training with its IMS Team. JIATF West is prepared to help the Sri Lanka Navy in fiscal year 2018 to modernize two shooting ranges in support of its Special Boat Squadron and Naval Recruitment Center.

As Sri Lanka works toward achieving its vision of becoming a dynamic global hub, the international capacity-building efforts of Sri Lanka’s Navy and Coast Guard will help ensure their success.

Oil Spill Preparedness

U.S., Sri Lanka partner to be ready for disasters

Justin Pummell/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Sri Lanka now has an environmental mapping resource for coastal regions between the Port of Colombo and Negombo Lagoon. The U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) and the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) collaborated to develop the first such tool in Sri Lanka.

The team of experts, who completed the project on August 23, 2017, included representatives from Sri Lanka’s National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency, Coast Conservation and Coastal Resource Management Department, Central Environmental Authority and other local government entities.

The environmental resource bases, which are also referred to as Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps, provide a concise summary of coastal resources that are at risk if an oil spill occurs. Examples of at-risk resources include biological resources, such as birds and fish; sensitive shorelines, such as marshes and mangroves; and human-use resources, such as subsistence gathering or fish processing. ESI maps can help responders meet one of the main response objectives: reducing the environmental consequences of a spill and the cleanup efforts, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Additionally, planners can use ESI maps — before a spill happens — to identify vulnerable locations, establish protection priorities and identify cleanup strategies.

The coastal mapping endeavor, the first ESI project for Sri Lanka, was well-received by its participants.

“The ESI project is a great step for Sri Lanka,” said Lt. Cmdr. KA Nuwarapaksha, SLN marine conservation staff officer. “The Sri Lanka Navy was privileged to be the focal point, and we are grateful for the support provided by USPACOM, USACE and local stakeholders.”

Yearlong effort

The ESI project commenced in June 2016 and took about a year to complete. The project was orchestrated in three phases, with an initial scoping effort followed by field work and technical delivery. The result is a comprehensive atlas and geographic information system (GIS) database designed to prioritize oil spill response, recognize vulnerability and assist with critical decision-making. Project deliverables also include standard templates that can be used to develop additional ESI resources that can be applied to other locations in Sri Lanka, such as at Galle or Trincomalee.

Representatives of the Sri Lanka Navy, Marine Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies collect environmental mapping data near the Port of Colombo. [PSS PREMADASA/SRI LANKA NAVY]

“Undoubtedly, I believe this ESI will enhance the oil spill response capabilities of responsible entities in Sri Lanka,” Nuwarapaksha said.

LLRB de Silva, a GIS specialist with MEPA, recalled participating in a challenging oil spill cleanup and now looks to Sri Lanka’s future response capabilities with optimism. A ship named MV Thermopylae Sierra sank in 2012, and an oil spill occurred between Panadura and Negombo, according to de Silva.

“At that time, there were no ESI products available, and the response was difficult,” de Silva said. “Now, with detailed ESI maps available between Colombo and Negombo, it is a great achievement for Sri Lanka. I am hopeful that this preparation will advance our capabilities in the future, and we are able to apply the practical experience from this project to other regions of the country,” de Silva said.

During November 2016 field work, five groups of subject matter experts tackled the study area to complete the job. Each group consisted of a coastal engineer, biologist, hydrographic surveyor, global navigation satellite system operator and a logistical specialist. The team collected data and photographs of shoreline characteristics, human-use patterns, coastal erosion, socio-economic data and biological resource presence. All participants, with the exception of USACE, were Sri Lankan government professionals who could be available to replicate future efforts.

In total, teams analyzed and classified 221 kilometers of shoreline and recorded more than 4,000 features. The result is a robust database to support first responders and planners in making more effective and efficient decisions. For example, first responders can now visualize ranked sensitivity and prepare response measures accordingly. Additionally, first responders can easily use GIS to analyze potential “what if” scenarios and practice communication and response measures.

The Sri Lanka Navy guides a U.S.-Sri Lanka survey team of experts through Negombo Lagoon. [PSS PREMADASA/SRI LANKA NAVY]

USACE Pacific Ocean Division is responsible for carrying out the Corps’ mission in the Indo-Pacific region in support of USPACOM. This project was done through the Division’s Honolulu District and U.S. Army Institute for Water Resources.

The effort provides a unique snapshot in time of the project area, including thousands of field photographs, according to GIS specialist Benton Ching of the Honolulu District. “Comparing aerial photography of the 1960s through the present, it is amazing how much change has taken place, especially in Negombo Lagoon,” Ching said. “It will be interesting to see how modern planning, biological management and land development affect the shoreline, land use and biological resources in the future.”

The Colombo-Negombo area was chosen as the project study area due to its diverse range in ecosystems and population, as well as current ship traffic patterns to and from the Port of Colombo and its related onshore/offshore petroleum facilities.

“For future ESI efforts in Sri Lanka, it is recommended the southern coastline have a similar ESI product prepared,” said Commodore Kalana Jinadasa, who is the director naval operations for SLN.

Sri Lanka’s southern coastline is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, with many oil tankers passing between the Middle East, Africa and Asia.