Extending and Protecting Sri Lanka’s Ocean Assets

Ivan Amarasinghe, presenting “A Proposal for Non-Traditional Resources Exploitation  within the UN Allocated EEZ and the Ocean University of Sri Lanka”













Executive Summary of the Proposal

The Indian Ocean around Sri Lanka contains vast, precious minerals which have so far not been explored or exploited by Sri Lanka. A review of recent scientific literature indicates that powerful States and Corporate sectors are active within the area. The support of the United Nations [UN] is sought to legally delineate the national Extended Economic Zone [EEZ] in keeping with the UN Convention on Law of the Sea [UNCLOS]. Sri Lanka must urgently guard its ocean resources before they are exploited to exhaustion by others. Sri Lanka must ensure forex earnings through a new policy on sustainable exploitation of ou ocean resources.

Herewith it is argued that:

  1. Government of Sri Lanka [GoSL] through its Foreign Ministry must accelerate the process of acquisition of the Extended Economic Zone [EEZ] through the UNCLOS.
  2. GoSL should initiate a national Maritime Resources Policy Institute/Think Tank preferably within the Ocean University of Sri Lanka. IT will advice the GoSL on best policies and practices for the benefit of Sri Lanka with concurrence of its global partners. It may ideally form a regional hub to develop and coordinate policy with the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) Such a Policy Institute may
  3. Across the world 162 countries have activated the UNCLOS conventions since 1994. Countries such as Viet Nam are reputed for defence of their territorial waters and the EEZ from intrusions by powerful neighbours as China. The small State of Papua New Guinea [PNG] has entered into economically lucrative agreements with global multinational Corporate sectors to seek economic benefits from their EEZ mineral resources. The Foreign Ministry of Sri Lanka must demonstrate a more robust and assertive attitude in diplomatic dialogue with the UN and other stakeholders to seek final ratifications on its lawful rights to the EEZ in keeping with the UN conventions.

The lack of effective action from the Foreign Ministry of Sri Lanka must be rectified urgently so that in these difficult times Sri Lanka may follow in the footsteps of countries such as PNG and Viet Nam.


The incidence of Covid 19 around the world including Sri Lanka has caused seemingly insurmountable economic and fiscal problems.  Most economists conclude that the current Sri Lankan economic problems arise due to over dependence on a service based Foreign Exchange Earnings (Forex) economy. The main national income is through expatriate remunerations of manpower supply to the Middle East and tourism as the main Forex earners. The government is now searching for new sources of Forex earnings. This proposal introduces a hitherto unexplored avenue of economic fortunes through development of a national ocean resources policy.

International diplomacy, while retaining its historical priorities of ensuring peaceful relations between countries, has developed into negotiations on trade, implementing new policies and solving disputes. the vast global oceans have historically facilitated travel between continents for diplomats, travellers, traders, sailors, and adventurists in search of fame and fortune. The advent of air travel and aerospace technology since the early 20th century has replaced the travel and military adventurism formerly termed “gunboat diplomacy”. However, international trading logistics utilising large trans-oceanic vessels have increased in geometric proportions. Port and utilities facilitations to such transport vessels has resulted in unprecedented national prosperity of small States such as Singapore existing on or near the international shipping lanes. Sri Lanka has the potential to derive exemplary benefits if sustainable national policy on such matters are developed through competent professionals qualified to constitute Think Tanks within the Ocean University of Sri Lanka.

This discussion postulates on the need for national and international foreign policy developments through a national Think Tank of a Sagara Vishwa Vidyalaya as envisaged by the Rt Honourable Mahinda Rajapaksa as Minister, President and Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. Such policy must be in accord with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas [UNCLOS].

 The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and its Relevance to Sri Lankan Development through an Ocean University

Sri Lanka possesses a territorial sea of 21,500 km2 and an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of up to 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the coastal line an extent of 517,000 km2. Sri Lanka has the rights to the resources in the water column, seabed and subsurface in the EEZ. This entitles Sri Lanka to an oceanic surface extent 7.89 times larger than its land surface area of 65,268 km2.

UNCLOS is the international treaty on ocean rights adopted and signed in 1982, at the end of almost ten years of negotiations (1973-1982). It replaced the four Geneva Conventions which concerned the territorial sea and the contiguous zone, the continental shelf, the high seas, fishing, and conservation of living resources on the high seas. UNCLOS is the legal framework for global marine and maritime activities. It defines the national boundaries of the ocean adjacent to a country. These confines are not only lateral from the maritime coast to the deep seas but also vertically down to the seabed. It allocates Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) for each country. The Convention came into effect in November 1994. Currently 162 Parties including the European Union share its jurisdictions.

UNCLOS itself was formulated through a UN Conference on the Law of the Sea in 1980 under the Chairmanship of a retired Sri Lankan Civil Servant, Hamilton Shirley Amerasinghe. He was also Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Indian Ocean. He proposed that the Indian Ocean be declared a “Zone of Peace”. UNCLOS and the efforts of Amerasinghe at the Conference rewarded the island of Sri Lanka with legal rights to an oceanic expanse that was ten times larger than its land area. It was granted an exclusive Economic Zone of 200 miles from the shores with a de facto responsibility of being the centre of the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace.

In 1876, Sir John Murray reported the discovery of metal-rich nodules on the deep-sea floor during the voyage of H.M.S Challenger in 1873.

Article 76 of the convention provides the basis for a maritime country to demarcate its maritime boundaries. As such, the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) received the Sri Lankan submission for approval of the national was successful in making its submission on 8th May 2009.  A considerable amount of gravity and seismic data collected by the team during surveys for Delimitation of the Outer Edge of the Continental Margin of Sri Lanka [DEOCOM] is available for defence by competent Sri Lankan scientists and legal experts when the Commission summons official representation at its hearings. It is hoped that the Ocean University will be a facilitating centre with erudite competent professionals for all research and coordination activities with national and international stakeholders, lawyers, and academics to achieve this historical opportunity for Sri Lanka.


Dr. Ivan Amarasinghe BSc (Hons)[Herts], PhD [OU UK], MIBiol [UK], CBiol [UK] ……….. Ex-Director General and Chairman of NIFNE/Ocean University [2000 -2008] ……. And …….. Ex-Ambassador of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam [2009 – 2015]



Ravindra K. A. Kularatne: “Sri Lanka’s legal framework for marine pollution control: an evaluation of the Marine Pollution Prevention Act, No. 35 of 2008,” Journal of the Indian Ocean Region, vol. 16/3, 2020, pp. 244-67. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19480881.2020.1816364?journalCode=rior20


PS: 1 August 2022

In thanking me for presenting this article, IVAN AMARASINGHE noted:  “Dear Michael, Many thanks for the correctly abridged version with your editing. I am ready for any discussions by interested parties. Best, ……….. Ivan” ….

Refer to the following site for his personal details and credentials: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100010373586171

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