Yes, I’m slow. These news stories are from July and May, and I hear about it today on Sri Lanka’s news report.
From what I could gather of the televised news report, India wants to dig a canal through the Palk Straight between the southern tip of India and the northern end of Sri Lanka. It would save their ships 400 nautical miles of travel, which, apparently, takes 36 hours.
On the face of things, this would appear to be a good idea. Quicker shipping, less fuel, yada yada yada yada.
One of the considerations has to be that the Colombo port charges are much higher than at nearby Indian ports, but with shipping lanes as they are at present, it makes much more sense logistically to stop in Colombo and pay those higher costs.
Well, I couldn’t hear everything that was being said. I couldn’t hear it very well, so I don’t even know if the rest was in English or Sinhalese. So I do what I usually do – I Google it. And here’s what I found.
A shipping canal that India plans to dig off its southern coast could have disastrous consequences for the marine and coastal ecosystems of neighbouring Sri Lanka, environmentalists warned on Monday.
Dredging in the shallow depths between India’s southern tip and northern Sri Lanka could upset delicate ecosystems in the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve and Palk Bay and spell doom for fishermen from both countries, activists told a seminar held by the Green Movement of Sri Lanka.
"No-one in their right mind would dig a canal between India and Sri Lanka… The environmental impact in Sri Lanka has not even been studied," T. Mohan, an Indian environmental lawyer, said on the sidelines of the seminar. "We are talking about changes to the ecology … sedimentation and risks to human lives if cyclones and tsunamis are to occur," he added.
Um, what? Not bothering to find out what kind of environment impact there might be? Granted, I know this is India and Sri Lanka, where such things should NEVER be taken for granted, but this is also a part of the world that was recently affected by the tsunami. The fishing industry in Sri Lanka has not yet recovered. It could be years or decades before it does. Fish is scarce and has, consequently, increased in price, and added to that, a huge amount of the fishing boats were destroyed.
Knowing this, why would India not care if there’s further damage? Granted, I’m talking about Sri Lankan consequences, but I can’t imagine that India’s consequences were that far different.
This month the Indian cabinet approved a $550 million ship channel project to make it easier for ships to travel between the east and west coasts of the country. Only small fishing boats can pass through the Palk Strait at present.
Under the Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project, a channel will be dredged in the shallow portion of the sea off the southern tip of India so that vessels of up to 30,000 tonnes, including Indian Navy patrol vessels, will not have to circumnavigate Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan government will explore appropriate measures and take all necessary steps to safeguard its interests in the proposed Sethusamudram ship canal project undertaken by the Indian government, foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar told parliament here Thursday.
Kadirgamar said although India had sought no prior approval from Sri Lanka for the project, "we have raised our concerns relating to the project’s likely transfrontier impact on Sri Lanka especially in environment and livelihood areas."
I’m not sure what Sri Lanka thinks it can do other than plead, yell, scream, and give the project a lot of bad press.
From what I’m reading and hearing, the canal will entirely be built (dug? dredged?) in Indian waters. Or perhaps international waters. But not Sri Lankan waters. So legally, is there anything Sri Lanka can do?
India last week kicked off the project to dredge a navigable sea channel between the two countries which will allow Indian vessels to avoid sailing some 400 miles around Sri Lanka on trips between the east and west coast of India.
Sri Lankan shipping circles have expressed reservations about the possible commercial implications as a result of the project.
Uh, yeah. Less money. That’s the implications.