US eyes joint naval exercises to protect Indian Ocean trade


The US called for closer cooperation, including intelligence sharing, with navies in the Indian Ocean region to protect the vast global trade across the region.

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells said the US was ready to cooperate in protecting merchant shipping, but they also wanted to combat terrorism, transnational crime, trafficking-in-persons, and illicit drugs.

"To combat these challenges, the United States has sought to improve intelligence-sharing among regional partners and improve capacity-building in areas like community policing, counter-narcotics, aviation security, and forensics analysis," she said.

Speaking at the two-day Indian Ocean Conference hosted by Colombo, she said there was a critical need to expand engagement on maritime awareness in the strategic Indian Ocean region.

"In the increasingly crowded maritime environment, the sharing of reliable information is the foundation for greater cooperation," she said.

More than half the world’s 90,000 commercial vessels and two thirds of the global oil trade travelled through the Indian Ocean underscoring its strategic importance, she said.

"We hope that one day in the not too distant future, all the navies of this region can jointly participate in exercises and coordinate maritime activities to build collective capacity and uphold international standards," she added.

Her remarks came three days after Sri Lanka said it was seeking global assistance in cracking down on drug cartels increasingly using the island as a transit hub for smuggling cocaine and heroin.

Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayaka said an unprecedented spike in cocaine seizures, a drug relatively uncommon to Sri Lanka, suggested it was emerging as a key transit point for smugglers.

Sri Lanka’s strategic position between Europe and Southeast Asia had made it an attractive location to offload drugs, Ratnayaka said, adding that he would ask delegates at the Indian Ocean conference for assistance in smashing the trade.

Sri Lankan authorities found more than 200 kilogrammes of cocaine in a consignment of sugar that came through Colombo’s main port last month in just the latest high-value seizure in recent times.

Police found another 800 kilogrammes of cocaine concealed in a timber shipment in December last year, and a separate 90-kilogramme stash six months earlier.

Heroin seizures have also been rising, including a bust in May where police found 200 kilogrammes of heroin in a car north of Colombo.

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