Colombo: India on Monday gifted a Dornier maritime reconnaissance aircraft to Sri Lanka which will enable the island nation to tackle multiple challenges like human and drug trafficking, smuggling and other organised forms of crime in its coastal waters more effectively.
Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe was present at the impressive handover ceremony which took place on a day when India celebrated its 76th Independence Day and a day before a high-tech Chinese missile and satellite tracking ship docks at the island nation's strategic Hambantota port.
Vice Chief of Indian Navy Vice Admiral S N Ghormade, who is on a two-day visit to the country, accompanied by Indian High Commissioner in Colombo Gopal Baglay, handed over the aircraft to the Sri Lanka Navy at the Sri Lanka Air Force base in Katunayake, adjoining the Colombo international airport.
The aircraft would act as a force multiplier, enabling Sri Lanka to tackle multiple challenges such as human and drug trafficking, smuggling and other organised forms of crime in its coastal waters more effectively, the Ministry of External Affairs said.
"Induction of the aircraft is timely in view of the current challenges to Sri Lanka's maritime security," the MEA said in a press release.
The gift to the people of Sri Lanka will equip the country to contribute more towards the security of the Indian Ocean Region at large.
Speaking on the occasion, High Commissioner Baglay emphasised that induction of the aircraft will help in creating a peaceful environment for progress and prosperity of the people India and Sri Lanka.
Gifting of the Dornier aircraft underscores the cooperation between the two maritime neighbours in the defence and security spheres. Such cooperation is envisaged to add further capability and capacity to Sri Lanka and is in line with the vision of Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR), the release said.
It also noted that maritime security has been identified as a key pillar of the Colombo Security Conclave.
"Security of #India and #Srilanka is enhanced by mutual understanding, mutual trust and cooperation. Gifting of Dornier 228 is #India's latest contribution to this cause," Baglay said at the handing over event.
In his address, President Wickremesinghe on thanked India for gifting the Dornier aircraft to Sri Lanka and said it will help start cooperation between the Sri Lanka Air Force and Sri Lanka Navy with the Indian Navy in maritime surveillance.
"This is the start of cooperation between the Sri Lanka Air Force, Sri Lanka Navy with the Indian Navy in maritime surveillance," he said.
The aircraft is being provided to Sri Lanka from the inventory of the Indian Navy to help the country meet its immediate security requirement, sources in New Delhi said.
The Indian Navy has already provided extensive training to a team from Sri Lanka's Navy and the Air Force to operate the maritime surveillance aircraft.
India will provide to Sri Lanka two Dornier aircraft which are being manufactured by state-run aerospace major Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
Once these two HAL-manufactured aircraft are handed over, then the Dornier aircraft given on Monday will return to the Indian Navy, the sources said.
The aircraft will be flown and maintained by 15 Sri Lanka Air Force crew who were specifically trained in India for four months.
The team consists of pilots, observers, engineering officers and technicians. They will be supervised by the government of India technical team attached to the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF).
The team would undertake comprehensive supervision of aircraft, airframe, aircraft support equipment, ground support equipment, and relevant documents and would ascertain the serviceability of all the assets, the SLAF said earlier on Monday.
Chief of Staff to the President Sagala Ratnayaka, Defence Secretary General Kamal Gunaratne, Chief of Defence Staff General Shavendra Silva and Army, Navy and Air Force Chiefs of Sri Lanka were present at the ceremony.
The handing over of the Dornier aircraft by India comes a day before Chinese ship 'Yuan Wang 5' docs at the Southern port of Hambantota on Tuesday for a week for replenishment purposes.
The ship was originally scheduled to arrive at the port on August 11 but it was delayed in absence of permission by the Sri Lankan authorities.
Sri Lanka had asked China to defer the visit amid India's concerns over it. On Saturday, Colombo granted the port access to the vessel from August 16 to 22.
There were apprehensions in New Delhi about the possibility of the vessel's tracking systems attempting to snoop on Indian defence installations while being on its way to the Sri Lankan port.
India on Friday rejected China's "insinuations" that New Delhi pressured Colombo against the visit by the vessel to the Sri Lankan port but at the same time asserted that it will take decisions based on its security concerns.
External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said Sri Lanka, as a sovereign country, makes its own independent decisions and noted that India would make its judgment on its security concerns based on the prevailing situation in the region.