Sri Lankan fishermen stop building of seaplane platform in Negombo Lagoon, 2010-2011


Removal of excavation of equipment from Negombo Lagoon, a halt to the excavation, and a permanent end to the SeaPlane project.

Time period notes

The exact start and ending times of this campaign are unclear. Start time represents the first known action and the end time represents the government's decision to move the project from Negombo Lagoon

Time period

October, 2010 to January, 2011


Sri Lanka

Location City/State/Province

Negombo lagoon
Jump to case narrative

Methods in 1st segment

  • Catholic Mass at St. Jude Forest Birds festival

Methods in 2nd segment

  • in boats on Negombo lagoon
  • boating in construction site

Segment Length

Approximately 15 days


Sri Lankan fishermen


Catholic priests, Alliance for the Protection of Negombo Lagoon, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith

External allies

Not known

Involvement of social elites

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith


President Majinda Rajapaksa, Defense Minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not known

Campaigner violence

Not known

Repressive Violence

Not known


Economic Justice



Group characterization

Sri Lankan fishermen
Catholic priests

Groups in 1st Segment

Catholic priests
Sri Lankan fishermen
Alliance for the Protection of Negombo Lagoon

Groups in 3rd Segment

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith

Additional notes on joining/exiting order

Cardinal Malcom Ranjith was an avid supporter of the campaign and may have joined earlier.

Segment Length

Approximately 15 days

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

4 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


2 out of 3 points

Total points

7 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

The campaigners achieved two of their three demands: removal of excavation of equipment and a halt of the excavation. They did not achieve a permanent end to the SeaPlane project.

Database Narrative

After his election to office in 2005, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced he would work to bring peace and economic prosperity to all communities of Sri Lanka with his Mahinda Chinthana development program. The program included his SeaPlane project, a plan to build a number of seaplane airports to encourage tourism to more secluded areas of Sri Lanka such as Negombo Lagoon. 

Concerned about the negative effects of the seaplane airport construction on the vegetation and natural resources of the lagoon and their livelihoods, fishermen and villagers from Negombo began a campaign against the SeaPlane project. 

The earliest known action the fishermen and villagers took was on 31 October 2010 at the annual St. Jude Forest Birds festival. About 2,000 fishermen, Catholics, church leaders, members of trade unions and local organizations, and social activists gathered in the parish of Kurulu Kele, archdiocese of Colombo, and prayed for God to protect their livelihoods from the disruptions the project would cause. At the mass, the attending Catholic priests announced their support for the campaign and wrote a letter to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, requesting that he stop development because of the potential impacts on the fishing families in Negombo. Fishermen have estimated that the Negombo Lagoon directly supports over 5,000 families in 35 villages and indirectly supports 4,000 families, fish sellers, collectors, repair centers, and centers for the sale of equipment.

On 18 November over 8,000 fishermen and villagers protested excavation work for building a seaplane platform in the lagoon. Hundreds rowed boats out into the lagoon to nonviolently interject and physically prevent digging. The Convener of the Alliance for the Protection of Negombo Lagoon, Herman Kumara, announced to the media that they would not leave until authorities removed the excavation machines, including a barge carrying dredged dirt. 

The protestors also demanded an immediate halt to the excavation work as well as a meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa to put an end to the entire project. 

President Rajapaksa’s younger brother and Defense Minister, Gotabya Rajapaksa, blamed the Catholic clergy for stirring up the local fishing population and threatened to use the Navy to force the demonstrators to disperse. 

After ten hours of protest (from 8:30 am to 6:30 pm local time), authorities agreed to suspend work on the project. The demonstration ended after the announcement, but protestors vowed to continue to fight until the government released an official statement for the cancellation of the construction in Negombo.

On December 2, fishermen and activists met with Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, who agreed to mediate with the government for a permanent end to the SeaPlane project. 

The Sri Lankan governmet refused to back down on the project but decided to move the SeaPlane project from Negombo to a different location in January 2011. 

No information on protests occurring in 2012 was found.

In May 2012, the government opened their main seaplane airport in Dandugama Oya. 


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Roshan, Shamith. “Thousands of fishermen protest against sea plane project.” NAFSO. 1 Nv 2010. Web. 27 Oct 2012. <>.

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“Sri Lanka: Fishermen protest against sea plane project.” JDS: Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka. 18 Nov 2010. Web. 27 Oct 2012. <>.

“Sri Lanka: Some 8,000 fisher people hold sit-in against government tourist project.” Spero News. 19 Nov 2010. Web. 27 Oct 2012. <>.

Perera, Melani Manel. “Sri Lankan fisher people call on Card Ranjinth to mediate with the government.” Asia News. 02 Dec 2010. Web. 27 Oct 2012. <>.

Perera, Melani Manel. “Sri Lanka governemnt ready to move seaplanes from Negombo Lagoon.” Asia News. 07 Jan 2011. web 27 Oct 2012. <>.

“Sri Lanka’s main seaplane landing airport opens.” The Nation. 24 May 2012. Web. 27 Oct 2012. <>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Iris Fang, 27/10/2012