Ambassador Julie J. Chung’s Remarks – U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Environmental Security Program: Oil Spill Response Workshop

June 6, 2022

Thank you to the Sri Lanka Coast Guard and Navy for hosting and organizing this event in collaboration with the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Environmental Security Program.

I appreciate the powerfully diverse audience I see here which includes not only the security forces but the ports authority, wildlife conservation department, and many others.  The Sri Lanka government and industry leadership participating today is indicative of how important environmental security and disaster response is to us all – and especially as yesterday was World Environment Day.

This is the fourth iteration of the Oil Spill Response Workshop and related events.  The first workshop was back in November 2014.  We then conducted an Environmental Sensitivity Index project in 2017.  Next, we held a second workshop in December 2021 as a response to the X-Press Pearl disaster in May 2021.  We are now here in June 2022 following up on that December workshop to continue improvement on past lessons learned and identify future efforts.

This workshop series is just one example of the U.S. commitment to assisting our partners in developing real-world response capabilities across an entire spectrum of challenges.

Ocean and environmental protection is global concern, and all maritime nations need to work together to build effective inter-agency response procedures and capabilities.  This type of readiness is especially important for Sri Lanka, being such a major maritime hub in the Indo Pacific.  As we saw with X-Press Pearl, in a matter of a day, what should have been a routine cargo vessel transit became the worst environmental disaster in Sri Lankan history.

We saw horrific images of fish and turtles washed up on the shores of Negombo, of livelihoods dependent on fishing threatened, and the potential lasting chemical impact we are still grappling to address. How do we explain this to our children?  We must do better.

Oil Spill response is just one area of expertise in the INDOPACOM Environmental Security Program, which addresses a broad range of maritime natural resource problems. We are also committed to working with you to address illegal fishing mitigation, coastal zone management, and biodiversity conservation, including through the annual Indo-Pacific Environmental Security Forum.

We would even love to work with the Government of Sri Lanka on possibly hosting this forum in 2023 which underscores our partnership in environmental stewardship, bringing together government and non-governmental organization participants for a whole of society effort.

These types of combined efforts to protect the environment across national borders and social divisions can contribute to economic prosperity and conflict prevention. This is our moral imperative for future generations.

I anticipate that this workshop will be engaging, productive, and beneficial to all parties.  I look forward to hearing more about it throughout the week.  Thank you.