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IMBL meeting aims at cordial ties for Lankan, Indian Navies



At right: The SLN Fast Attack Craft in which the Sri Lankan delegation reached the INS Kukri and (at left) the INS Kukri

When LTTE terrorism was at its peak in the late 1990s the international maritime boundary line (IMBL) between Sri Lanka and India became one of the hottest topics as it was the most crucial area that was exploited by the LTTE to their advantage.

Whether it was arms smuggling, drug trafficking, poaching by fishermen or illegal immigrants, all those issues had become sensitive to the politics of both Sri Lanka and India, with the existence of LTTE terrorism that affected the two countries at different levels.

IMBL meetings todate

November 29 1999 On board INS Saryu

September 26 2000 On board SLNS Shakthi

February 28 2001 On board INCG Varad

July 25 2001 On board SLNS Sayura

March 21 2002 On board INS Savitri

October 11 2002 On board SLNS Shakthi

June 05 2003 On board INCG Vajra

October 10 2003 On board SLNS Sayura

May 20 2004 On board INS Sukanya

November 30 2004 On board SLNS Sayura

July 29 2005 On board INS Sukanya

February 23 2006 On board SLNS Samudura

August 03 2006 On board INS Sukanya

February 12 2007 On board INCG Vajra

July 13 2007 On board SLNS Samudura

June 05 2008 On board INS Sukanya

April 29 2010 On board SLNS Sayura

September 29 2010 On board INS Kukri

There were periods where fingers were pointed at the Sri Lanka Navy when Indian fishermen were killed in the Palk Strait in scenarios created by the LTTE to tarnish the image of the Sri Lanka Navy and also to antagonise the Indian authorities against Sri Lanka sometime leading to bigger political issues affecting the two countries.

But, the cordial relations that existed between the Navies was the bond that kept relations between the two countries over these issues unshaken and unshattered.

When the Indian media and some politicians stood against the Sri Lanka Navy the Indian Navy always stood firmly by the side of the Sri Lanka Navy explicitly exhibiting the cordial relations that existed for decades.

The IMBL meeting held biannually since 1999 aboard an Indian or Sri Lankan ship in the general sea area between Talaimannar and Point Pedro has become a vital meeting which helped the Navies of the two countries to sort out issues that affect them.

“The biannual IMBL meeting was started to create a forum for both Navies to sit together and discuss the issues affecting the two Navies patrolling the IMBL between the two countries”, Captain Athula Senerath said, explaining the history behind the biannual IMBL meeting.

The first IMBL meeting was held on November 29, 1999 on board INS Saryu. The location for the meeting is decided according to the condition of the sea but it is generally a location between Talaimannar to Point Pedro, but not beyond that area, Captain Senerath said.

The two Navies have this meeting on rotational basis on board an Indian or Sri Lankan ship.

“But occasionally due to operational commitments and other reasons there have been instances the meetings were not held biannually”, Captain Senerath added.

However, the two Navies are committed to continue the bond. The 18th IMBL meeting was held on September 29 on board the Indian vessel INS Kukri, an offshore petrol vessel.

“At most of these meetings the poaching by fishermen on each others territorial waters has become the most discussed issue”, he added.

As explained by the Navy Commander, Vice Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) last month, more than 500 Indian trawlers daily entered Lankan waters before the humanitarian operation ended and there were no Lankan fishermen on sea.

According to him more than 2000 Indian fishing trawlers used to fish in the Northern territorial waters in the absence of the Sri Lankan fishermen.

“Among the Indian boats there were LTTE boats smuggling fuel. The Sri Lanka Navy had the tough task of locating LTTE boats among this fleet”, the Navy Commander told the LLRC.


Indian and Sri Lanka Navy officials greet each other

On board the INS Kukri on Sept. 29, 2010.

His statement to the LLRC explained the serious situation the Sri Lanka Navy had to face during the conflict period as this maritime boundary was exploited by the LTTE for their existence and to reach their terror and political ends.

Poaching on Indian territorial waters by Sri Lankan fishermen also has become a frequent problem for the Indian Navy and coast guards as hundreds of Sri Lankan fishermen end up being arrested by Indian coast guards and Navy.

According to Fisheries Ministry statistics 322 fishermen and 60 boats were detained by the Indian Navy and coast guards within the first six months of the year. But due to the active involvement of the Fisheries Ministry, so far 270 fishermen and 46 fishing trawlers have been released by the Indian authorities.

The Fisheries Ministry states that only 52 fishermen and technicians and 14 boats are yet to be released by the Indian authorities to Sri Lanka.

However, the Sri Lanka Navy though used to detained some of the Indian trawlers entering Sri Lankan waters during the conflict period had not detained a single Indian trawler in the post war scenario.

The situation on the part of Sri Lanka has improved as not a single fisherman or fishing boat had been detained by Indian officials since July this year as a result of the intense awareness campaign carried out by the Fisheries Ministry.

At the 18th IMBL meeting, the two Navies also agreed to conduct more awareness programs among the fishing community so that they would not poach into each other, territorial waters.

The Sri Lanka delegation to the meeting at Point Calimere was headed by Deputy Chief of Staff and the Commander Northern Naval Area, Rear Admiral Susith Weerasekara and included the Director Naval Operations, Commodore Neil Rosayro representing the Sri Lanka Navy.

Usually, the Northern Naval Area Commander is the one who heads the delegation from the Sri Lanka Navy, with representatives from Navy Headquarters and from the North Western and Eastern Naval Area also participating.

The Indian delegation was headed by Naval Officer In-Charge, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry Commodore Rajiv Girotra.

The Indian team also included Deputy Inspector General Y.K. Singh, Chief of Staff, Operations, Coast Guard, Eastern Region and six others.

The Indian delegation, which flew from the INS Parundu, a naval air station at Uchipuli, landed on the INS Kukri in a helicopter, the Sri Lankan delegation reached IMBL by a Sri Lankan Navy ship.

During the meeting, measures to be adopted in order to improve security especially in the Palk Strait, including further action to be taken to prevent smuggling of narcotics and other items, transporting of illegal immigrants and human smuggling were discussed, Captain Senerath said.

“The two Navies are committed to working out programs they agree on at these meetings since it is the basis to promote cordial relations between the two Navies in the future”, he conclude.

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