Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris, accepting the charge of the Vice-Chair position of the Indian Ocean Rim Association IORA at the 21st Council of Ministers Meeting held in Dhaka Bangladesh called for collective action to safeguard the maritime shipping lanes and ocean space from pollution related disasters. 

Referring to the MV-X Press Pearl disaster in May 2021, involving plastic nurdles, hazardous and noxious materials, Minister Peiris stated that the environmental impact was not only felt in Sri Lanka but with possible long-term repercussions on marine environment beyond Sri Lanka waters. Emphasizing the importance of regional cooperation in maritime safety and security, Minister Peiris stated that Sri Lanka will take the lead in proposing collective action that could avert or mitigate such disasters that have long term repercussions not only on the environment but also livelihoods – a critical concern for all Member States. He also called   on the global community to establish a fund to recover environmental damage and losses considering the magnitude of the consequences of such incidents. He thanked all Members States who extended their support to mitigate the environmental impact of the disaster.

Congratulating the Government of Bangladesh on the assumption of leadership of IORA, Foreign Minister Peiris stated that Sri Lanka unreservedly has placed its   confidence   in Bangladesh leading IORA in the next two years   which is crucial given the ongoing pandemic.   He also thanked the Government of the United Arab Emirates for its excellent work and resilience in steering IORA during its tenure. He also thanked the outgoing past chair, the Government of South Africa for enriching collective decisions as a member of the Troika and the Acting Secretary General and his staff for their tireless work  done  during the absence of a Secretary General. 

The Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, commenting on the theme  selected by Bangladesh for the period of its Chairmanship: “Harnessing  opportunities of Indian Ocean sustainably for inclusive development”, stated  that the Indian Ocean is the third largest, covering an area of more than 70 million sq km, and that the  world is witnessing  mounting competition in the Indian Ocean rim over oceanic resources. He stated that this  highlights the need for regional mechanisms, which could guide countries in the region to cooperate and engage peacefully in harnessing the prospects in a more sustainable manner and  IORA working on an overarching vision on this key thematic area, which is imperative for the promotion of a sustainable ocean economy.

The Minister alluding to “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendor”, the vision statement of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka,  stated that the  use of ocean resources in a sustainable manner under the concept of a blue-green economy is a cornerstone of Government policy. Referring  to a speech made by the President at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP-26) in Scotland, the Minister further stated  that sustainability is at the heart of Sri Lanka’s national policy framework,  and is shaped by Lord Buddha’s teachings, which places great value on environmental integrity.

Speaking on COVID-19, the Minister stated that Sri Lanka remains deeply concerned by the unprecedented challenge for the whole of humanity in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic which led to catastrophic health impacts and devastation of economies, especially in the tourism sector.   

He stated that Sri Lanka has embarked on a new journey to resuscitate tourism, and has opened its doors for tourists, while taking every possible measure to ensure the wellbeing of the people. He acknowledged that tourism has immense potential for growth and development and contributes to the economies  of Member States.   He stated that Sri Lanka is confident that the global community will come together to address the challenges posed by this pandemic and build economies in dynamic ways.

Welcoming the Russian Federation as the newest Dialogue Partner to IORA, the Foreign Minister   requested Member States and Dialogue Partners to continue to deepen cooperation to address the region’s challenges and to seize the many opportunities for shared progress. 

Indian Ocean Rim Association IORA at the 21st Council of Ministers Meeting held in Dhaka Bangladesh
Indian Ocean Rim Association IORA at the 21st Council of Ministers Meeting held in Dhaka Bangladesh

Acting Director General, Economic Affairs (Multilateral) Anzul Banu Jhan from the Foreign Ministry led the Sri Lanka Delegation at the 23rd IORA Committee of Senior Officials Meeting which preceded the   Council of Ministers Meeting.  The delegation to the  21st Council of Ministers Meeting also comprised of Sri Lanka High Commissioner  to Dhaka   S D S Seneviratne; Acting Director General, Economic Affairs (Multilateral) Anzul  Banu Jhan; Deputy High Commissioner Ruwanthi Delpitiya; and Media Secretary  to Foreign Minister Buddhika Wickremadara.