Enhancing Sri Lanka’s Hydrographic Services,A Path to Economic Growth in Ocean Economy

Hydrography plays a crucial role in a country’s development, particularly in a maritime nation like Sri Lanka. The mapping and charting of the sea are essential for ensuring safe navigation, resource management, and maritime security. Over the years, various entities, including the Sri Lankan Navy and the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA), have been involved in this endeavor. However, recent developments have highlighted the need for reform and the pursuit of more effective national hydrographic services.

Historically, the production of nautical charts was dominated by the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO) affiliated to Royal Navy, which provided critical information to mariners worldwide. While other countries, including India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, relied on their navies for hydrographic data and mapping , Sri Lanka also had its Navy actively involved in this essential work until 1983 when this responsibility was transferred to NARA.

NARA took on the task of charting Sri Lankan waters, but over time, it became evident that certain agreements they entered with UKHO did not adequately address the nation’s needs for accurate hydrographic data. The inadequacies of these agreements and slow progress became problematic, creating the need for reform and improvement.

Recognizing the importance of resolving these issues, a significant milestone was achieved when the Sri Lankan Navy and NARA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to improve the hydrographic capabilities of the nation. This partnership allowed for the development of electronic charts by the Navy and the enhancement of the Colombo Harbour chart, making it more accessible to larger vessels. As a result, Sri Lanka’s status as a prime maritime destination improved, boosting the country’s income through increased maritime traffic and tourism. Due to the effectiveness of the aforementioned MOU, the research vessel “SAMUDRIKA,” which was operated by NARA, was transferred to the Sri Lankan Navy through a seperate MOU.

In 2022, His Excellency President’s intervention was instrumental in addressing the challenges faced by NARA and the Navy. *To ensure a fair and thorough assessment, a committee was formed by the His Excellency PRESIDENT* . The committee, chaired by hon. Nimal Siripala comprised members such as hon.Ali Sabree,hon. Naseer Ahamed,hon. Wijedasa Rajapaksha, and hon.Douglas Dewananda. Their primary recommendation was that the responsibility for hydrographic services should be transferred to the Sri Lankan Navy due to their expertise and efficiency.

Despite the committee’s findings and recommendations, certain unions/officers interests within NARA have raised concerns. It is rumored that the pressure from these unions influenced hon. Douglas Dewananda reconsidered his initial agreement to transfer responsibilities to the Navy. However, the paramount consideration should be the nation’s interests and the need for efficient hydrographic services, decided by the committee .

The committee’s comprehensive study led to the formulation of a bill that aims to reform Sri Lanka’s hydrographic services. This bill is now set to be presented in Parliament, and its passage into law is essential. It represents an opportunity for Sri Lanka to enhance its maritime capabilities, increase safety at sea, and continue to attract larger vessels to its ports. While the bill represents a significant step forward, there are reports of some state officers within the bureaucracy attempting to obstruct its progress. It is crucial that these issues are addressed to ensure the continued development of Sri Lanka’s hydrographic services.

The reform and enhancement of Sri Lanka’s hydrographic services are crucial for the country’s economic growth and maritime security. The involvement of the Sri Lankan Navy, coupled with the committee’s thorough evaluation, demonstrates a commitment to improving these services. It is imperative that all parties involved prioritize the nation’s interests and work together to pass the proposed bill into law, thus ensuring a prosperous and secure future for Sri Lanka’s maritime endeavors.

Ayesh Indranath Ranawaka

Executive Director


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