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Enhancing Maritime Security - Across Oceans by Dr Vijay Sakhuja

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Author: Dr Vijay Sakhuja
Issues relating to the expansion of the trilateral initiative to include other smaller Indian Ocean littoral countries were also discussed at the National Security Advisor (NSA) level trilateral meetings.


India has a coastline of 7,515 kilometers, an Exclusive Economic Zone of 2.01 million square kilometers and shares maritime boundaries with seven countries – Bangladesh, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Thailand and Sri Lanka. Most of the maritime boundaries have been delineated except in South Asia ie with Pakistan in the Sir Creek area in Gujarat and India-Bangladesh boundary dispute is under arbitration before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, Netherlands.

 

Economic Lifelines

India, Maldives and Sri Lanka are strategically located astride the sea lane – Hormuz Strait in the Arabian Sea to Straits of Malacca in the Bay of Bengal – which serves as the lifeline of the Asia Pacific economies particularly of China, Japan and South Korea. This sea lane witnesses heavy merchant vessel traffic which include super tankers, bulk cargo, chemical tankers, container vessels and other types of shipping that sail very close to their shores bringing additional responsibilities to ensure safety of shipping and security of the sea areas. It is estimated that nearly 100,000 vessels transit through the Indian Ocean annually.

India, Maldives and Sri Lanka have established a number of politico-strategic and operational mechanisms to address a variety of sea based Non-Traditional Security (NTS) threats and challenges such as piracy, terrorism, drug smuggling, gunrunning, human trafficking etc. After the terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008, India carried out a major restructuring of the coastal security architecture, set up additional surveillance and reconnaissance stations, special training of naval and coast guard personnel and expanded the number of stakeholders to include fishermen as ‘eyes and ears’ of the maritime security forces to make coastal security more robust.

Trilateral Security

In 2011, the first National Security Advisor (NSA) level trilateral meeting was held in Male, Maldives and measures to enhance maritime security cooperation were discussed. The second NSA level trilateral talks were held in July 2013 which resulted in a joint understanding on issues relating to Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT), Merchant Ship Information System (MSIS) and Automatic Identification System (AIS).  It was also agreed to enhance cooperation in the domain of Search and Rescue (SAR) coordination including personnel training, increase the frequency and content of naval exercises called ‘Dosti’, exchange real-time information and intelligence and also study legal issues related to piracy. Issues relating to the expansion of the trilateral initiative to include other smaller Indian Ocean littoral countries were also discussed.

Consequently, at the third meeting held in March 2014 in New Delhi, delegations from Mauritius and Seychelles were invited as observer nations. The participants expressed satisfaction over the activities undertaken by the partners and discussed new areas for joint activities to enhance maritime cooperation such as sharing of hydrographic knowledge, Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) training, visits by cadets of partner countries on-board  Indian Sail Training Ships, exchanges between think tanks and joint participation in adventure activities. These pioneering initiatives are laudable and noteworthy.

India has also taken initiatives to build capacities of smaller navies through supply of surveillance platforms such as ships and aircraft, helicopters, training of personnel to ensure technological enrichment and operational experience. India supplied an Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) equipped with a helicopter to Sri Lanka in 2000 and has trained its naval personnel.

Likewise, Maldives has received extensive naval support from India. India gifted two naval Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv to enhance the capacity of the Maldivian Coast Guard. One of these is deployed in the southern Maldivian Island of Addu and the second, which operates from the northern Hannimadhoo Island, is more advanced and is fitted with a weather radar. It will also be used for medical evacuation duty. Significantly, these helicopters are currently operated and maintained by Indian crew and the Maldivian personnel are being simultaneously trained to operate these platforms. In February 2014, India gifted a naval landing craft to the Maldives and also announced financial support for the construction of a new building for the Ministry of Defence.


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