Thursday, March 12, 2009

India’s Maritime Security

In the present scenario, when terrorism has emerged as the most serious threat to life and property of citizens, Indian Naval Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta’s advice to prevent the misuse of containers deserves special attention. In his opinion, containers are likely to be used by terrorists to smuggle in nuclear weapons and other kinds of warheads to strike at their targets.
The reason is that over 70 per cent of the global trade through sea routes is done with containers. There is, therefore, need to devise a system to ensure that containers do not have anything that can help terrorists in implementing their nefarious designs. Even the leakage from any such cargo can prove to be devastating for the country.

Domain Awareness
Keeping such threats in view, the US came out with the Container Security Initiative and the Proliferation Security Initiative after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. India, however, had its reservations and hence its refusal to be a part of these initiatives. What happened in Mumbai on November 26,shows that India will have to go in for foolproof security measures at its ports. Efforts are already on for “special security audits”, vehicle tracking systems and other such arrangements at major ports. There is need to lay greater stress on maritime domain awareness. The likely threats from cargo containers will have to be given top priority. Till today there is no system to find out what exactly is there in the containers, which sometimes have much storage space left after the accounted cargo has been put in.

However, container scanning is not a one-step procedure that can be inserted painlessly into the port security process. Our port infrastructure as it stands today is abysmal. Ships are compelled to pay marine charges several times those charged at major ports in Dubai or Sri Lanka. This is largely due to processing and turnaround times which may stretch over weeks. Adding container-scanning procedures to this would raise costs even further, hitting trade. Neither can ports be expected to bear the costs of the new measures without passing them on to shipping companies. The solution is for the government to take on the monetary burden of both the security revamp and infrastructure renewal. As it stands, the Defence Ministry large chunk of its allocated budget each year and procurement of container-scanning technology can be argued to fall within its purview. There has undoubtedly been some progress as far as overall port security is concerned. The coast guard, navy and marine police have scrambled to implement the long-ignored maritime security blueprint. A boosted CISF presence at ports, bomb disposal squads and speedboats to patrol port waters are all on the cards. But, as has happened in so many instances, these are reactive measures rather than part of a comprehensive policy. In effect, the ministry of shipping, road transport and highways is planning in hindsight, preparing for another attack following the Mumbai model.

Navy Gets Charge
Aiming to project a tough image ahead of the polls, the Government has redefined the role of the Navy and put the command and control of the entire coastal and maritime security under its umbrella. Normally, the Navy is given such a ‘complete charge’ during wartime. At present, the Navy was responsible for areas beyond 200 nautical miles from the coast. Defence Minister A K Antony announced the policy shift of the UPA Government. The move comes just three months after a handful of armed terrorists came via sea to attack Mumbai breaching all lines of defence and exposing chinks in the existing system of surveillance. This had embarrassed the Navy and the Coast Guard and had also started a blame game at the highest level.

The change means henceforth, the Navy will be the overall authority. The multitude of State and Central agencies that operate along the coast or in the seas will now assist the Navy in operations. In a way, this will end the duplicity of command and undo small “fiefdoms of power” controlled by various ministries as diverse as shipping and fisheries.

A national command control communication and intelligence network for real time maritime information, the operations rooms of Navy and Coast Guard, both at the field and the apex levels, would be established. Also, the Navy will control all operations of the Coast Guard. Input of the various agencies will also go to the Navy.

In the past, piece-meal measures have not helped. Following the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts, the Navy embarked on a major surveillance and patrolling exercise named Operation Swan. Yet, in November 2008, this ongoing operation did not stop terrorists from entering Mumbai from the sea-front and that too within a short distance of India’s naval base which accounts for most of India’s top-of-the-line naval assets and not far from nuclear establishments. Welcome as it is, this decision alone may not be sufficient. Despite India’s long history of security threats and engagements, inter-agency coordination has been a major problem whether in fighting insurgency or in intelligence sharing.

Joint Operation Centres
To implement this, the Government will set up Joint Operation Centres (JOCs) in Mumbai, Visakhapatnam, Kochi and Port Blair under the charge of naval commanders-in-chief. The naval commanders will be designated as the C-in-Cs coastal defence. The JOCs will be jointly manned and operated by Navy and Coast Guard. The number of ships, boats, helicopters and aircraft besides manpower will be added. The Navy would also get 80 fast interception crafts for sea front patrolling. The Navy would also get a specialised force called “Sagar Prahari Bal” consisting of 1,000 personnel for protecting naval assets.

On the role of the Coast Guard would have a new regional headquarter in Gujarat, which would be designated as ‘north-west region’ and a new post of Commander, Coast Guard, to look after surveillance of the state’s coast. This is important as Gujarat is the only state where we share a common maritime boundary with Pakistan.

The Director-General Coast Guard will be designated as Commander Coastal Command and will be responsible for overall coordination between central and state agencies in all matters relating to coastal security. Nine additional coast guard stations will be located at Karwar, Ratnagiri, Vadinar, Gopalpur, Minicoy, Androth, Karaikal, Hutbay and Nizampatnam.

The Government had also approved the proposal for setting up of coastal radar chain and a comprehensive network chain of automatic identification system stations along the entire coast. These will keep track of vessels below 300 tonnes that will also have transponders fitted.

Stepping up maritime surveillance is a highly challenging job. Of course, there is no dearth of funds for the purpose, as the Central Government communicated to all the coastal states and Union Territories in the wake of 26/11. But money alone is not enough to take care of India’s long coastline (7,516 km in all). The emerging maritime security threats call for a change in the mindset, as traditionally sea routes have not evoked as much attention of the authorities as land and air routes.


Aruni Sharma said...

Hello, a nice piece of article indeed. I would like to hear your opinion about the perceived indifference of the government towards navy vis-a-vis the army and the airforce. Before the Mumbai carnage, naval security was seldom discussed in the public domain inspite of the fact that it played a big role in india's victory in the 1971 war. thanks,

Aruni Sharma said...

It is really a very informative piece of text on naval challenges india is facing currently. It's a pity that the naval security has lagged behind as compared to the army and the airforce. It is only after the Mumbai carnage of 26/11/2008 that the threats to India's sovereignty through the sea root has been discussed in the public domain. The government also seems to be giving a preferential treatment to the other two wings of the forces. What is the reason of such a state of affairs in your opinion? please enlighten.