Sri Lanka’s EEZ and Safeguarding Its Resources

The sea has been responsible for spreading ancient civilizations, languages, religions and ideas for mankind across many shores. Despite the advent of the transcontinental railways and airlines the sea still dominates international transport movements. Sea borne trade, as pointed out, accounts for over 80 percent of international trade by volume. As the man started traversing the vast ocean mainly for commercial and adventure purposes, the hidden powers of the ocean started emerging. The world economy will depend increasingly on the vast and largely untapped wealth of the oceans. Since the Third United Nations Conference on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) of 1982, some nations have declared Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) around their coastlines, within which the country has sovereign rights for exploration, exploitation and management of natural resources. These rights also bring their obligations, such as the safeguarding of offshore interests and maintenance of law and order.

Sri Lanka being an Island nation, our lives have been linked with the sea for centuries. The area of the Island is 65,610 Sq kms, and the Coastal area around the country is about 1,300 kms. With an EEZ of 200 NMs extending towards the ocean, and the ocean area encompassing to the jurisdiction of Sri Lanka is about 8 times the area of the land mass area. The various zones, which Sri Lanka can claim for exclusive or preferential use under the UNCLOS III, 1982 agreement is represented as follows:


The term “Exclusive Economic Zone” has come to be applied to any offshore area claimed by a nation as its own. There are however different types of maritime zones, each with distinctive benefits and obligations. Many maritime nations’ distinctive benefits have by now claimed jurisdiction over different offshore areas under UNCLOS III of 1982. It is evident that a nation can only reap the benefits from the claimed zone, if it carries out the essential task of properly maintaining it. Hence it includes enforcement of law and protects it by conservation for the future generations.


The large area falling under the jurisdiction of Sri Lanka has given us much hope for the economic development of Sri Lanka as it involves the exploitation of the natural resources on and below the sea in a total area almost 30 times the land area of our country. The wealth and resources within this vast area are enormous. Their exploration and exploitation will make Sri Lanka one of the richest countries in Asia. The resources are broadly:

  • Ocean bed minerals.
  • Petroleum, gas and shale.
  • Potential for energy generation.
  • Fishery resources.

It is important to access and manage these resources carefully after surveying them, mapping them out and formulating short, medium and long term plans for their; exploration, development, conservation and surveillance. Today we have new methodologies of science and technology using the full range of the Electromagnetic Spectrum for making the basic survey measurements, using different remote sensing techniques. This will determine the both living and non-living resources. The task of exploration and exploitation of the living and non-living resources of the sea should include measures for prevention of other countries from exploitation of our resources. Thus it would also require maritime surveillance. This Herculean task of exploring and exploitation would devolve on the scientists and technologists of Sri Lanka involved in Geodesy, Hydrography and Oceanography to begin with. The task without doubt has to be meticulously planned, its activities closely monitored and executed.


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 were not carried out effectively or not having the necessary level of deterrence, the penalty to be paid by the nation would be enormous.

The effectiveness of maritime surveillance depends on three paramount capabilities viz. detection, identification and 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 (LRMPA) with night operation 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 maritime patrol aircraft can reach the outer limit of the EEZ within one hour, whereas a surface vessel capable of carrying out EEZ patrols can reach this limit 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. Only a limited number of naval vessels have the capability to engage in EEZ patrols.


The needs of offshore control are radically different from those of land-based policing. Before setting up an offshore control organization, a detailed assessment must be carried out of the assets within the EEZ and of the risks, which have to be guarded against. This may not be as simple as it sounds. The nature of the seabed, for instance, may not be known in detail. There may be mineral resources, hydro-thermal vents, deep currents, historic wrecks and other unknown features worth exploiting. The protection of resources needs similar careful analysis. Of course, there is a great difference between contingency planning to meet some possible emergency, and forward planning to counter a developing threat. The organization needed to control an EEZ and especially the equipment used to exercise control depends critically on the geographical and hydrographical nature of the area.



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