The Indian Ocean basin is the world’s third largest ocean. The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is the only permanent pan-regional intergovernmental organisation focused on the Indian Ocean region. IORA aims to strengthen regional cooperation and sustainable development within the Indian Ocean region and is currently composed of 23 Member States and 10 Dialogue Partners. IORA began with the Indian Ocean Rim Initiative in March 1995, which was followed by the creation of IORA as an inter-governmental organisation (then formally known as the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Co-operation (IOR-ARC)) on 7 March 1997 via the adoption of the IORA Charter. 2022 marked the 25th Anniversary of IORA and The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is the incoming Chair from 2023–2025. IORA’s primary objectives are found in Article 3 of the IORA Charter and include: to promote sustainable growth and balanced development of the region and Member States; to focus on those areas of economic co-operation which provide maximum opportunities for development, shared interest and mutual benefits; and to explore all possibilities and avenues for trade liberalisation, to remove impediments to, and lower barriers towards, freer and enhanced flow of goods, services, investment, and technology within the region.
The IORA Charter affirms maritime safety and security as a priority area, with the IORA Action Plan 2017-2021 as well as IORA Working Group on Maritime Safety and Security (WGMSS) Work Plan 2022-2026 providing short-, medium- and long-term objectives to enhance regional cooperation. It is anticipated that the follow-up IORA Action Plan under development will provide further focus for maritime safety and security coordination and cooperation through IORA. IORA Charter categorizes ‘Maritime Safety and Security’ at the highest place in the list of the organization’s priority areas. Specific maritime safety and security concerns in the region have been identified in subsequent documents, including the 2013 Declaration of the Indian Ocean Rim Association on the Principles for Peaceful, Productive and Sustainable Use of the Indian Ocean and its Resources, as well as the 2015 IORA Maritime Cooperation Declaration. Likewise, when cooperating at the regional level on maritime affairs, the 2013 Declaration on Principles reaffirms IORA Member States’ commitment to the applicable principles of international law and recognises that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) ‘provides the legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and their resources and plays a vital role in maintaining peaceful cooperation and stability across the Indian Ocean’. In this context, it is beneficial to foster a shared understanding and interpretation of UNCLOS and related law of the sea instruments concerning maritime safety and security, as well as seek to further identify pan-regional, regional, or subregional trends in areas requiring harmonisation, or those conductive to greater cooperation.
The Foundation has been formally active with IORA since 2022, working on maritime safety and security with Sri Lanka and the IORA Secretariat as the key project partners in response to the unique context, needs and interests of IORA Members. This project builds on the Foundation’s previous experience and expertise in the area of the law of the sea, also reflected by the Indian Ocean Baseline Study, produced in earlier parts of the project, and on the Foundation’s previous projects on supporting maritime governance in the Indian Ocean (Part I, Part II and Part III).