The Sri Lankan High Commission has refuted the existence of a special agreement allowing Sri Lankan vessels to cross Maldivian territorial waters.
News of such an agreement was published last week in Maldivian media after Sri Lanka’s Deputy External Minister Neomal Perera was quoted in Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror newspaper as saying such an agreement had been signed.
In the Maldives, Fisheries Minister Dr Ibrahim Didi and Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem denied such an agreement existed, while the President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said foreign vessels already had such permission under the UN Convention on Law of the Sea.
The opposition Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) denounced the supposed agreement as an assault on soverignity and “an insult to Maldivian fishermen”, questioning the capacity of the country to monitor illegal fishing, while Maldivian Democratic Party Chairperson ‘Reeko’ Moosa retaliated by saying such a statement was “very irresponsible” as it implied Sri Lanka were “thieves”.
The matter entered parliament and MDP MP Mohamed Musthafa threatened to present a motion without notice to reverse the supposed agreement.
However in a letter sent to the Maldives Foreign Ministry seen by Minivan News, referring to articles on the matter published in local newspapers Haveeru and Miadhu, the Sri Lankan High Commission stated that “The Deputy Minister of External Affairs of Sri Lanka has made no statement claiming that a maritime agreement to facilitate Sri Lankan vessels to cross Maldivian territorial waters has been signed between the two countries. This is the official position of the Government of Sri Lanka.”
Attached to the letter was the original statement from Sri Lanka’s External Ministry, reporting that the minister had successfully negotiated the release of seven Sri Lankan vessels held by the Maldives on suspicion of poaching, but made no mention of a signed agreement to allow vessels traffic through the Maldives.
The Ministry of Fisheries meanwhile noted that while “innocent passage” was routinely granted for foreign vessels, unlicensed foreign fishing vessels were required to notify the ministry before entering the Maldives exclusive economic zone.