Amid a diplomatic row between Russia and Sri Lanka over the detention of an Aeroflot plane here, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has informed Moscow that the problem 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 apologized to all passengers and crew after the island nation’s aviation authority blocked a flight by the Russian flag carrier from leaving Colombo airport.
The flight, which was due to depart from Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport in Moscow on June 2 with 191 passengers and 13 crew members, was not allowed to depart due to a restraining order issued by the High Colombo Commercial Court, a statement from the Airport and Aviation Services said.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office told the Daily Mirror newspaper that Wickremesinghe had a discussion on the matter with the Foreign Office Secretary and advised him on what to do.
Ports, Merchant Marine and Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva apologized to the crew and passengers of the plane who were stranded, the News First website reported.
He also acknowledged that the issue would have an impact on the tourism industry in Sri Lanka, in addition to the currency crisis.
Sri Lanka is going through the worst economic crisis since its independence from Britain in 1945.
The economic crisis has led to severe shortages of essentials like food, medicine, cooking gas and other fuels, toilet paper and even matches, with Sri Lankans forced to queue for months for hours in front of stores to buy fuel and cooking gas.
Minister de Silva said that due to the prejudice caused by the issue, the Sri Lankan government has decided to provide a legal framework in which all parties receive a fair trial, despite the outcome of the case.
Therefore, he mentioned that the Attorney General will make submissions to the court on the Aeroflot issue on Monday.
However, he stressed that this was a dispute between two companies and that the state was not involved, in addition to stressing that the state could not obstruct any legal proceedings.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government said it was working diplomatically to resolve the issue.
However, the Russian airline has decided to suspend commercial flights to Colombo from June 4, after only eight months of operation.
Reports from Moscow suggested that the angry Russian government had summoned Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Moscow for an explanation.
The company owning the plane had argued in court that Aeroflot had been told not to fly the plane after the lease contract was terminated in March.
However, Aeroflot continued to fly the aircraft between Moscow and Colombo.
In a statement, the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry said: “The case concerns a commercial dispute between the claimant, Celestial Aviation Trading 10 Limited, an Irish company, against the first defendant, the public joint stock company “Aeroflot”. and the second Respondent, Mr. .NC Abeywardene/Acting Chief Air Navigation/Airport and Aviation Services of Sri Lanka (AASL), Katunayake”.
The case is still awaiting a final decision from the court, he said on Saturday, adding that the matter was also being consulted through normal diplomatic channels.
Russia’s official Tass news agency reported that Aeroflot suspended flights to Sri Lanka after authorities here did not allow its flight SU-289 to leave Colombo airport.
The company also promised that passengers with tickets to Moscow for later dates would also be flown home as scheduled.
The High Commercial Court in Colombo has banned the Airbus A330 from leaving Sri Lanka until June 16. A court hearing to lift the seizure of the plane is scheduled for June 8, according to the Tass report.
Aeroflot has been hit by Western sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. It is not yet clear whether the detention of the Russian plane in Colombo is linked to the sanctions imposed on Moscow.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)