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Galle Dialogue 2018: International Maritime Conference - Sri Lanka

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22-23 October 2018

The Indian Ocean has become the focal point in geo-politics in the 21st century. This third largest water body of the world with rim nations of 2.7 billion population has witnessed maritime threats emanating from piracy, narcotics/human smuggling, terrorism, waste dumping and Illegal Unregulated Unregistered (IUU) fishing over the past few decades. Whilst addressing maritime concerns stemming from maritime borders, resources and trade, there are also issues on the security of Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC). These are being mitigated to a certain extent at present through regional and extra regional collaborative initiatives which have enhanced the sharing of information and thereby containing maritime threats to an appreciable level.

The Galle Dialogue - International Maritime Conference - was inaugurated by the Sri Lanka Navy since 2010 under the patronage of the Ministry of Defence. The purpose of this conference is to provide a common platform for stake holders of national and international repute to discuss and deliberate maritime related issues. In the Galle Dialogue 2018, a total of 52 nations were represented followed by 20 international organisations. Capt. Martin A. SEBASTIAN, Senior Fellow/Centre Head, Centre for Maritime Security and Diplomacy and First Admiral Anuar bin Muhamed RMN represented Malaysia.

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Fig 1: The President accompanied by the Chief of Navy

The welcoming remarks was delivered by the Chief of Navy Sri Lanka, Vice Admiral SS Ranasinghe. The Chief  Guest, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, His Excellency Maithiripala Sirisena’s address was read by the Chief of Navy. The Keynote Address was delivered by the President’s Council Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Mr Kapila Waidyaratne.

The Galle Dialogue furnished 6 sessions for the event namely, Maritime Vision–Country Perspectives, Maritime Governance, Panel Discussion–Can the Indian Ocean be Collaboratively Managed, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), Blue Economy and finally Maritime Domain Awareness.

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Fig 2: Admiral Ravindra, Chief of Defence Forces Sri Lanka lights the oil lamp prior to the event

During the Maritime Vision - Country Perspective session, speakers from United States, China, Russia and India elaborated on the importance of the Indian Ocean to the global community. Vice Admiral Ashok, Deputy Chief of the Indian Navy described India’s vision for the Indian Ocean – Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) and connectivity as one of the major themes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy and the Act East policy.

In the Maritime Governance session, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC)  explained on regional maritime security capacity building programmes. This session also attributed to some information on ship breaking and ship recycling issues.   

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Fig 3: Participants of the Galle Dialogue 2018

In the Panel Discussion–Can the Indian Ocean be Collaboratively Managed, speakers from United Kingdom, India, Malaysia and France provided their views on how maritime security has evolved in the Indian Ocean region. Some of the aspects raised were on Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSC) in light of the Somali piracy threat, the MH 370 Search and Rescue (SAR) and the Djibouti Code of Conduct which provided the foundation for Information Fusion Centres (IFC).

In the HADR session, speakers from Japan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) highlighted the vulnerability of humans to the devastation of mother nature and the effects of war on communities. Preparedness for an HADR event was raised as imperative and hence the need for navies to be ready to be deployed.

The Blue Economy session raised issues of resource and revenue security. The sustainable harvesting of marine living and non living resources were raised. Renewable and non renewable resources were highlighted in light of the requirements of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG).

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Fig 4: Capt.Martin and FAdm Anuar

The final session, Maritime Domain Awareness, speakers from India, Sri Lanka, Canada and Australia shared some interesting views on how military and law enforcement domain differ and yet converge based on unfolding events. They raised concerns on the dangers of too much dependency on systems and that inter-agency cooperation is needed at a daily basis to build better situation awareness and capacity building.

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Fig 5: Capt.Martin with Admiral Ravindra, Chief of Defence Forces Sri Lanka

Overall, the Galle Dialogue was well organised and continued to increase numbers and diversity of participants since it was first launched. However, focussing maritime security/safety matters with a naval view could be myopic in the future as the inclusion of maritime security agencies like Coastguards and other stakeholders in the maritime sector could bring a meaningful dialogue and open up new possibilities and opportunities.

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