81. Telegram 3099 From the Embassy in Sri Lanka to the Department of State 1 2


  • US Navy Port Visits to Colombo and Male


  • A) Colombo A–275, DEC 13, 1973; B) Colombo 2000; C) Colombo 2047

1. Summary: On basis review of experience over past two and half years, Embassy concludes that use of Colombo for USN port calls has been advantageous for projection of USG presence and limited fleet support. July visit of Amb and USS La Salle to Male indicates that infrequent USN port calls at Maldives would also bring political and operational benefits. Issue of US naval presence in Indian Ocean continues to be delicate and must be kept under close review. On assumption present assessments remain valid, however, Embassy recommends up to six to eight carefully spaced visits to Colombo a year, of five rather than three days duration; and one visit of three days duration to Male a year. End summary.

2. Embassy has just completed reevaluation of ship visit policy and procedures, taking into account experience of past two and half years in Sri Lanka and results of Amb-USN visit to Maldives in July. Observations and conclusions are as follows:

3. Sri Lanka. Since 1972, Colombo has been routinely available for port visits by US Navy ships and other foreign warships. Total of 77 ships of foreign navies called at Colombo in this period; American and Soviet navies were predominant users with 21 US and 26 Soviet port calls. All 21 US ships but only 9 of 26 Soviet ships were combatants. Soviet Navy operates differently from USN, however, which makes comparison difficult. In any event, all 26 Soviet ships were handled by GSL port and naval officials as Navy ships; that is, diplomatic clearances, free pilot and port use, and special arrangements were provided by Sri Lanka Navy in same manner as with all visiting navies. Although GSL has publicly denied Trincomalee to all foreign warships, Colombo is expected to remain available for port visits by foreign navies, at least in short run. GSL sees foreign exchange earnings from fuel and provision sales and tourist activities of visiting ships as major advantages of this policy. Further, GSL claims that letting everyone in reinforces its non-alignment.

4. Availability of port of Colombo cannot be taken for granted, however. GSL’s non-nuclear declaration policy is still on books, although unenforced at present, and Mrs Bandaranaike’s Indian Ocean Peace Zone (IOPZ) proposal calls for withdrawal from Indian Ocean of navies from outside the area. To encourage existing GSL open-port policy, USN ships calling at Colombo should not seek to visit so frequently or be of size to cause GSL to perceive unbalanced or excessive support on its part to US Navy operations in Indian Ocean as compared to support rendered Soviet Navy. Otherwise, GSL might choose to deny diplomatic clearance to US ships in selected instances, or it might possibly decide resurrect non-nuclear declaration question, thus effectively barring USN port calls, or, to avoid appearance of anti-US policy, even go so far as to close Colombo to warships of all non-littoral nations in further public demonstration of support for IOPZ.

5. GSL concern over balanced relations with super-powers present in Indian Ocean works to our advantage for moderate USN use of Colombo. If that use is kept moderate, it also served to limit magnitude of Soviet naval presence here. Whether USN or Soviet Navy ships come to Colombo is generally dictated by fleet operational requirements. Nevertheless, two navies appear to be keeping a balance with each other: a month after Admiral McCain’s visit by air in April 1972, Soviet Admiral Smirnov arrived by air to conduct similar high-level military visit; 13 USN ships called at Colombo in 1972 and 5 in 1973, and the Soviets showed up with 16 and 7 respectively; between December 1973 and October 1974 when US and Soviet activities in Indian Ocean were under fire in world press, only 2 Soviet research ships and no USN ships called here. Thus, whatever we plan as USN port call program for Colombo must be seen as contributing to level of similar availability for Soviet Navy.

6. Maldives. US Navy ships have called at Male in connection with visits by American Ambassador in Dec 1972 and July 1974. This small nation has become object of interest to other countries recently as Sri Lanka-Maldives relations underwent period of strain and GOM looked elsewhere for alternatives to traditional economic dependence on Sri Lanka. Indians and Soviets in particular have been active and, as would be expected in maritime setting, visits of naval ships have served to project this interest: and Indian destroyer took Indian Amb to Male in Feb 1973, Soviet Amb visited on board research ship in 1973, and official Soviet Embassy party went to Maldives in 1974 on board Soviet oceanographic research ship. In 1973, British hydrographic ship Hydro continued survey of Male atoll and at least 3 separate Soviet research ships have conducted surveys in Maldives. During Amb’s July visit to Male (reftel B), Maldivian Prime Minister indicated that US Navy visits to Male atoll would be welcome at rate of one but not more than two per year.

7. Also during this visit, we learned that recreational activities could be arranged for visiting US Navy personnel that would provide relief from at-sea operations. These could include beach parties on uninhabited islands in Male atoll with excellent swimming and diving in what is nothing short of tropical paradise. Thus, difficulty of finding places in Indian Ocean where our sailors can enjoy shore leave can perhaps be somewhat alleviated by adding Male atoll to visit list. Political constraint is not lack of GOM hospitality but generally non-aligned GOM stance and likelihood of raising Maldivian expectations of USG assistance: they are not hesitant in asking for free help and we have not been particularly forthcoming. Therefore, yearly USN visit to Male should be planned to present tangible contribution to GOM in terms of economic gain: hire of local boats for transport, donation of books and sports equipment, and similar activities. Also required would be careful control of ship visit arrangements and, to that end, Embassy is requesting additional accreditation of US defense attache to GOM as is now case with British, Soviets, French, Indians, and Pakistanis (reftel C).

8. Our review has led us conclude that US naval visits to Sri Lanka and Maldives are useful in projecting US presence, in demonstrating continuing although moderate US interest in these two countries, and in providing refueling and/or recreational facilties for ships and crews.

9. Entire question of US naval presence in Indian Ocean remains politically sensitive in Sri Lanka (and to lesser extent in Maldives), and GSL continues concerned at prospective expansion of Diego Garcia facilities. In these circumstances, situation with regard ship visits could change rapidly and we shall have to keep matter under constant, careful review on assumption foregoing experience and assessments hold good, however, and on assumption USG wishes continue current policy on Indian Ocean naval presence (Middle East Force augmented by Pacific fleet naval units from time to time), Embassy recommends USN port visits to Colombo and Male should for present be considered within following guidelines:

A. Colombo:

1) Up to six to eight visits a year at intervals not less than six and preferably eight weeks apart by PACFLT and MIDEASTFOR ships.

2) Maximum of two ships per visit and ship types limited to destroyers, auxiliaries, and amphibious ships up to LSD size.

3) Number of sailors ashore not to exceed 500, which is largest number that can be properly accommodated by limited local facilites.

4) Duration of routine visits to be five days in port to allow sufficient time for both protocol and participation in our-of-Colombo overnight tours. Up-country travel increases visibility of American presence provided by US Navy visit and also gives opportunity for our sailors to visit more interesting parts of Sri Lanka.

5) Visit preparations to be started in time to give Embassy 30 days between submission of request for diplomatic clearance to GSL and ship arrival. Only with such lead time can appropriate arrangements be made for both political effectiveness and good recreation.

B. Male:

1) One visit per year in Sept or March/April (for best weather and to avoid tourist season) of three days duration.

2) Initial visit unrelated to Amb trip to be by moderate-sized surface ship (e.g., DE or DD) with possibility of visit by larger ships if first visit is successful.

3) Crew activity primarily ship-run beach parties with small parties to Male island for sports and limited protocol.

4) Maximum use of local boats and other facilites to provide tangible influx of US dollars.

5) 45 days notice for diplomatic clearance request.

10. We would appreciate Depts comments and/or concurrence on foregoing.

Van Hollen
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files. Confidential; Limdis. It was repeated to CNO, CINCPAC, CINCPACFLT, CINCUSNAVEUR, COMIDEASTFOR, London, Moscow, New Delhi, and SecDef. Airgram A–275, December 13, 1973, provided a previous assessment of the value of naval visits. (National Archives, RG 84, Colombo Embassy Files: Lot 77 F 54, DEF)
  2. The Embassy provided the Department of State with a comprehensive analysis of the value of naval visits to Sri Lanka and the Maldive Islands. The report also discussed the impact of naval visits on the issue of Diego Garcia and the Indian Ocean Peace Zone.