Detention of Russia's Aeroflot aircraft in Colombo is private legal issue: Sri Lankan PM
Amidst a diplomatic row between Russia and Sri Lanka over the detention of an Aeroflot aircraft here, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has informed Moscow that the issue with the Russian flag carrier is not between two countries but a private legal matter, according to a media report on Sunday.
A senior Sri Lankan minister has also apologised to all the passengers and crew after the island nation's aviation authority prevented a flight of the Russian flag carrier to depart the Colombo airport.
The flight, scheduled to depart from Colombo's Bandaranaike International Airport to Moscow on June 2 with 191 passengers and 13 crew members, was not allowed to depart due to an enjoining order issued by the Commercial High Court of Colombo, a statement from the Airport and Aviation Services said.
A spokesman from the Prime Minister's office told the Daily Mirror newspaper that Wickremesinghe did have a discussion on the issue with the secretary ministry of foreign affairs and advised him on what should be done.
Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva expressed his apology to the crew and passengers of the aircraft who were left stranded, the News First website reported.
He also acknowledged that the issue would make an impact on the tourism industry in Sri Lanka, in addition to the foreign exchange crisis.
Sri Lanka is going through the worst economic crisis since its independence from Britain in 1945.
The economic crisis has prompted an acute shortage of essential items like food, medicine, cooking gas and other fuel, toilet paper and even matches, with Sri Lankans for months being forced to wait in lines lasting hours outside stores to buy fuel and cooking gas.
Minister de Silva said that due to the harm caused by the issue, the Sri Lankan government has decided to provide a legal framework in which all parties are granted fair judgement, despite the outcome of the case.
Therefore, he mentioned that the Attorney General will make submissions to court over the Aeroflot issue on Monday.
However, he emphasised that the issue is a dispute between two companies, and the state is not involved, in addition to pointing out that the state cannot impede any judicial proceedings.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government has said it is working at the diplomatic level to resolve the issue.
However, the Russian airline decided to suspend its commercial flights to Colombo from June 4, after only eight months of operation.
Reports from Moscow suggested that the angry Russian government had summoned the Sri Lankan Ambassador to Moscow for an explanation.
The company owning the aircraft had pleaded in the court that Aeroflot was told not to fly the plane after the lease agreement came to be terminated in March.
However, Aeroflot continued to fly the aircraft between Moscow and Colombo.
In a statement, Sri Lanka's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: The case relates to a commercial dispute between the Plaintiff, Celestial Aviation Trading 10 Limited an Irish Company against the first Defendant the Public Joint Stock Company "Aeroflot" and the second Defendant, Mr. N. C Abeywardene/Acting Head of Air Navigation/Airport and Aviation Services of Sri Lanka (AASL), Katunayake .
The matter is still pending final determination of the court, it said on Saturday, adding that the matter is also under consultation through normal diplomatic channels.
Russia's official Tass news agency reported that Aeroflot has suspended its flights to Sri Lanka after authorities here did not allow its SU-289 flight to depart the Colombo airport.
The company also vowed that those passengers with tickets to Moscow for later dates would also be brought home as scheduled.
Colombo's Commercial High Court has banned the Airbus A330 jet from leaving Sri Lanka until June 16. A court hearing to lift the seizure of the aircraft is scheduled for June 8, the Tass report said.
Aeroflot has been impacted by Western sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. It is not yet clear whether the detention of the Russian aircraft in Colombo is related to those sanctions imposed on Moscow.