Retd. Rear Admiral stresses the need to maintain effective maritime surveillance

The recent destruction of an LTTE-owned ship, suspected to be carrying a large consignment of armaments, including 130 mm artillery pieces, in north-east waters, coming within Sri Lanka’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), has resulted in claims that the navy has no right to ‘act’ in the EEZ. The LTTE and its supporters have disputed the navy’s right to conduct ‘operations’ in the EEZ.

However, a former Navy Chief of Staff, Rear Admiral D. K. Dassanayake, with the government’s Peace Secretariat headed by Ambassador B. A. B. Gunatilake, late last week explained the government’s right to ‘act’ in the EEZ during a discussion held at the Flower Road office of the Secretary to Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe. Several embassy representatives and retired top brass were among the gathering.

Dassanayake, who held several key command posts including the post of the COMEAST, based his arguments on a paper titled ‘Maritime surveillance of Sri Lanka’s EEZ — an integrated approach’ submitted by him to the Defence Review Committee on March 5, less than a week before the Mullaitivu incident. The Defence Review Committee was set up by Defence Minister Tilak Marapana with a view to obtaining expert advice on a range of issues related to the armed forces.

In his report, carried by the army website, Dassanayake stressed that effective maritime surveillance is a perennial need and not dependent on the peace process and its best results can be achieved with a co-ordinated effort. He said: The concept of the EEZ was fommally introduced at the conference of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) of 1982 and entered into force on 16th November 1994. In brief, the EEZ provides a vast sea area extending to 200 nautical miles (nm) seaward from the coast line. Until the respective EEZs were declared, coastal states could exercise jurisdiction only within their 12 nm territorial waters. Sri Lanka declared her EEZ of 200 nm in 1976 and it covers a sea area eight time larger than her land mass. Over and above this limit, a coastal state has the right to explore the resources in the seabed, up to a distance of 350 nm from the coast line. Furthermore, the size of the seabed coming under Sri Lanka’s jurisdiction is expected to be further increased in accordance with the relevant provisions of UNCLOS III.

Sri Lanka has the right and jurisdiction to explore, exploit, conserve and manage all living and non-living resources and to preserve the marine environment including pollution prevention, within her EEZ. In terms of warfare, the EEZ is to be considered similar to ‘high seas’, but with an additional obligation to have ‘due regard to rights and duties of the coastal state’.

The fundamental interests of the perceived needs of Sri Lanka in her EFZ are the security interests, economic interest and world order interests.

Threats to above interests have emerged and continue to emerge by: foreign fishing vessels poaching in our EEZ and exploiting our fishery resources, drug trafficking and its adverse effects to the society, transportation of illegal immigrants and insurgents, gun-running and other illegal activities, discharge of oil or other pollutants causing damage to fishery resources, corals and spoiling of our attractive beaches. Out of the above, our national security was severely threatened by gun-running and illicit immigration and emigration while poaching and other illegal activities have caused lesser damage in economic terms. Therefore, by not taking adequate steps to counter these threats in time, the nation had to and will have to loose heavily in terms of security and national well being. For example, Sri Lanka imports approx. Rs 5 billion worth of fish per annum, whilst others poach in own ocean area !

To protect the interests discussed above and to overcome the threats connected therewith, the Government must establish effective control mechanism on management of marine resources, maintenance of territorial integrity, protection and preservation of marine environment, prevention of illegal activity and the safety of life at sea. In order to achieves this control, the coastal state must develop the capabilities to carryout three basic tasks:

a. Surveillance. b. Monitoring. c. Enforcement.

Maritime surveillance, monitoring and enforcement refers to the systematic observation and monitoring of an area to detect and deter violators of specific offences or rules. To demonstrate the nation’s resolve and capability to exercise control over its area of jurisdiction, there must be an expectation by the offenders that breaking of the rules of our seaboard will be discovered and punished. To maintain such a position, it requires a surveillance system that is capable of both detecting and apprehending offenders on a regular basis. If these tasks are not carried out effectively or not having the necessary level of deterrence, the penalty to be paid by the nation would be enormous.

Apart from the above, systematic maritime surveillance can enhance the search and rescue (SAR) capability of the country and in the region. This would encourage our fishermen to venture out to much greater distances and there is scope for a large scale fishing industry to be encouraged. Such a step will provide employment for persons involved not only in fishing but also in boat building, boat repairs and other related activities. Training facilities for such employment must be introduced at various levels.

The effectiveness of maritime surveillance depends on three paramount capabilities viz. detection, identification and near real time transmission for analysis and the effectiveness of enforcement depends on the ability to inspect and apprehend offenders.

The most efficient and cost effective platform for the surveillance of this large seaboard is a long-range maritime patrol aircraft (LRMP A/C) with night capability and state of the art surveillance equipment outfit. An aircraft has an excellent speed advantage and a quick turnaround time compared to that of a surface vessel. The operational speed of patrol aircraft is in the range of 200 kts and can reach the outer limit of 200 nm EEZ within one hour. Whereas, a surface vessel capable of carrying out EEZ patrols with a speed of 15 kts can reach this limits only in 14 hrs.

However, a surface vessel has the capability to remain in the patrol area for prolonged periods, physically inspect and apprehend offenders. Although the naval vessels patrol the seas, only a limited number has the capability to engage in EEZ patrols and more often, they were deployed on other priority tasks.

Another area that needs investigation with regard to maritime surveillance is the possibility of deploying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). There are UAV programmes aimed at maritime surveillance with a distinguishing feature of vertical take-off landing (VTOL) capability, making it suitable for launching and recovery by ships at sea. However, their acquisition depends on the operating and procurement costs.

In addition to the deployment of naval and air resources, the government security establishments, located in appropriate coastal areas can also contribute to the overall surveillance effort. This can be achieved by co-locating coastal radar stations in the same premises as appropriate. Such efforts are also useful for a coordinated attempt despite their limited coverage.

It is therefore clear that neither the ships alone nor the aircraft alone can meet these requirements efficiently. Thus, the best results can be achieved by developing an integrated approach addressing the overall maritime surveillance requirements using all above resources and organisations.

Once a policy decision is made on this integrated approach, a practical and workable concept of operations (doctrine) has to be developed for its effective implementation. This should take into account surveillance resources and technologies that would be made available addressing specific tasks, forms of command and control structure (in consultation with respective services and civil organisations), roles for civil, military, and intelligence agencies, communications and coordination. At joint operations organizations level, the doctrine should encompass joint training, surveillance models and patterns, procedures for different mission requirements, post patrol reports and action on surveillance product.

Finally, it must be emphasized that effective maritime surveillance is a perennial need and not dependent on the peace process and its best results can be achieved with a coordinated effort.