Article No. 13/2019
The following is the full text of the Valedictory Address delivered by IG S. Paramesh, PTM, TM, Commander Coast Guard Region East, for the International Conference on ‘Securing India’s Maritime Neighbourhood – Challenges and Opportunities’ jointly organised by the Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S), National Maritime Foundation (NMF) and The Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, University of Madras, Chennai. The event was held at AV Complex, INS Adyar, Chennai on March 28 2019.
Admiral Pradeep Chauhan, IN (Retd.), Director NMF Cmde. R. S. Vasan, IN (Retd.), Regional Director, NMF Dr. M Venkataramanan, Assistant Professor, Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, University of Madras and Participants
A very good evening to all !!
At the outset I would like to thank Cmde Vasan and the NMF for inviting me to deliver the valedictory address on a very apt and contemporary topic
Our Maritime Neighbours and the Regional Dynamics
1. The uniqueness of the India’s maritime neighbourhood is well established due to its geography, demography and political divisions. India’s relations with its neighbours have been mostly dynamic as its geo-strategic advantage has always been viewed as ‘over arching’ by others. This regional dynamics greatly influences our national interest & security perspective.
2. Before I speak on our core maritime issues, let me quickly take you through the setting of our immediate neighbourhood.
3. Sri Lanka, by virtue of its strategic location, is overseeing SLOCs and exploiting the IOR geo-politics for its development. The issues of cross border fishing, drug trafficking and illegal migration are major areas of concern.
4. Maldives, is also a cause for India’s maritime anxiety due to political upheavals, inherent climate change perils and presence of radicalized elements.
5. With a resolved IMBL, cooperation with Bangladesh is a positive indicator. However, the issues of cross border fishing, illegal migration, and presence of ISIS footprints may impinge upon our national security.
6. Further east, the issue of Rohingyas’ migration from Myanmar needs close monitoring as also the poachers.
7. Pakistan’s inimical attitude is poised to disturb India’s maritime interests. Issues of unresolved IMBL, state sponsored terror, drug trafficking, smuggling and increasing Chinese support for capacity building of Pak Maritime Forces, is a cause of worry for us and while we are aware of the growing might of the Chinese military,we seem to have missed out on the meteoric rise of the China Coast Guard. Established in 2013 with 16,000 personnel and 135 Vessels, it aims to be the world’s largest and most formidable Coast Guard in terms of tonnage and numbers. The expansion plan and operational ethos of China Coast Guard requires close monitoring.
8. Further, Chinese fishing vessels are organised into a maritime militia with paramilitary roles in peacetime and conflict situations. Militia fishing boats are trained in INT gathering, asserting territorial jurisdiction and providing logistics support to maritime forces. With enhanced inter-operability with China Coast Guard, the exploitation of this irregular force by China is to be cognized.
India’s Maritime Interests
9. Having scanned the neighbourhood for issues impinging on our interests, a quick appreciation of the EEZ of IOR littorals reveals a huge ocean area, which requires active Indian presence. Today our economic growth and development are envisaged to be driven by increasing stakes in the EEZ. Ocean developments under the Sagarmala initiative, Cruise Tourism for an estimated 1.5 lakhs cruise travellers, burgeoning offshore activities under the new Hydrocarbon Exploration & Licensing Policy and seaward extending fishing under the Blue Revolution, entails inherent vulnerabilities and warrants a robust safety and security architecture.
Threat Spectrum Analysis 10. The threats to Indian Maritime interest were conventional, clear, distinguishable and identifiable. However, the modern day threats are Grey with no clear dimensions.
Threats Envisaged 11. While we move towards realizing the maritime vision, we need to be cognizant of the non-traditional threats that may attempt to derail our ambitions. The growth of the marine wing of terror groups fuelled by our inimical neighbour continues to challenge our maritime security.
12. The menace of transnational organised crime, which has traditionally been posing a challenge to security, will continue to affect our national interests.
13. The issues of Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel onboard vessels and presence of Floating Armouries calls for caution and the Indian Ocean Region, also known as the World’s Hazard Belt, is always at risk of a climatic catastrophe, warranting large scale HADR requirements.
14. Further, our proximity to the Golden Crescent and increasing fortification of land borders has increased maritime vulnerabilities when viewed from the backdrop of drug trafficking trends. Recent drugs seizures off Gujarat coast and the established Ganja trafficking trends around the Palk Bay areas, could also be a source of funding organised transnational crimes. ICG, by mandate, is expected to keep our waters free from drug flow. It is imperative that our future outlook needs to cater for the regional maritime security dynamics, nation’s maritime vision and non-traditional threats.
15. In today’s scenario, the Maritime Threat Occurrence Probability, when gauged with the perils, can be considered close to a crisis response situation, requiring effective physical surveillance and readiness to use ‘force’ against anti national elements, for mitigating a situation in our Area of Responsibility.
16. Ladies and Gentlemen, here I would like to dwell on the ICG efforts as a microcosm of the larger government initiatives towards engaging our maritime neighbours.
International Cooperation 17. The Indian Coast Guard has signed Memorandum of Understanding/ Cooperation with maritime law enforcement agencies of several partner countries – the Bangladesh Coast Guard, Japan Coast Guard, Korean Coast Guard, Royal Oman Police Coast Guard, Sri Lanka Coast Guard and the Vietnam Coast Guard. A hotline for direct communication with Pakistan Maritime Security Agency has also been established under a MoU. High Level Meetings and Joint Exercises are an annual feature under the MoUs.
18. Ship visits constitute an important component of ICG outreach and interactions with partner agencies. During these visits cooperation and training in areas of Maritime Search & Rescue, Marine Pollution Response and Maritime Law Enforcement has remained in focus.
19. ICG places equal importance on multilateral cooperation and has been at the forefront of all regional efforts aimed at Capacity Building in the areas of Maritime Safety and Security through continuous engagement and cooperation in the Region. These include Regional Cooperation agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery (ReCAAP) against ships in Asia to which India is a contracting party and Head of Asian Coast Guard Agencies Meeting (HACGAM) where India is the Chair for the Working Group on Maritime Search and Rescue and a member of the Working Group on Environment Protection.
SAR 20. Given the vast Indian Search and Rescue Region of 4.6 million square kilometres and involvement of multiple stakeholders, regional collaboration in SAR efforts is an inescapable requirement. The Indian Coast Guard through the National Maritime Search and Rescue Board takes appropriate actions for continuous improvement of the SAR system. This calls for best SAR training and operational practices, conduct of exercises, efficient on-ground coordination and enhanced integration with the global SAR system. With this aim, the biennial National Search and Rescue Exercise (SAREX) is being conducted by the ICG since 2003. In addition to validating the National SAR Plan, the exercise serves to showcase India’s M-SAR capability and preparedness to international observers thereby strengthening the regional cooperative mechanism by sharing best practices.
21. Our concern for the safety of seafarers was demonstrated by the deployment of an ICG ship to extinguish a major fire onboard MV MSC Daniela 30nm off Colombo on 05 Apr 2017. In another incident on 11 Apr the same year, upon a request from Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, Karachi ICG ships and aircraft were promptly deployed to search for 07 Pakistan MSA personnel reported missing off the putative Indo-Pak International Maritime Boundary Line. Two PMSA personnel were rescued and bodies of the other 05 were recovered by 14 April 2017.
Pollution Response 22. A robust maritime environment is a sine quo non and towards this the ICG has been conducting the national level pollution response exercise NATPOLREX since 2009. Though the exercise is for validation of India’s oil spill response preparedness and building multi-agency synergy, with the presence of international observers, it is also a platform for sharing of latest developments and best practices being followed elsewhere. In a recent development, the ICG has signed a MoU for cooperation on the Response to Oil and Chemical Pollution in the South Asian Seas Region with the South Asian Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP) an inter-governmental organization headquartered in Sri Lanka.
23. The “Regional Oil Spill Contingency Plan” developed by the organization to facilitate international co-operation and mutual assistance in responding to any incident of a major oil pollution in the seas around Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and to develop and maintain adequate capacity to deal with oil pollution emergencies is likely to come into force shortly.
Capacity Building 24. Ladies and Gentlemen, though we are facing a shortage of personnel and assets ourselves, we continue to contribute to capacity building of the maritime safety and security agencies of our maritime neighbours. Over the last two decades India has gifted two Coast Guard Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) to Sri Lanka, two Interceptor Boats (IBs) to Mozambique and one IB to Mauritius and Seychelles. We also maintain a Coast Guard ALH at Gan in the Maldives which is exclusively engaged in SAR and Medevac missions and is bringing great succour to the far flung atolls. Other impromptu help is extended to our neighbours on a case to case basis, the most recent being gifting of 1000 litres of Oil Spill Dispersant to the Maldives at very short notice two years ago.
25. Regardless of our limited training infrastructure, we conduct regular training programmes and ship-board attachments for the Coast Guards and Navies of littoral States and beyond.
26. Having spoken of the ICG initiatives and to put the larger canvas in perspective, I quote our Hon’ble Prime Minister from his address during IFR 16: – “The oceans and world’s waterways are global commons. VasudhaivaKutumbakam – the concept of the whole world as a family – is perhaps witnessed on the oceans of the planet, that connects us all.” Unquote
Non-Hegemonism 27. Ladies and Gentlemen, first and foremost, India is a non hegemonistic nation which is more than what can be said of few other nations. Recently, though the judgement of the tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), in the protracted Indo-Bangladesh IMBL dispute case under the UNCLOS went largely against India’s interests, we accepted the ruling graciously. This was a mature re-affirmation of India’s policy of settling maritime territorial claims amicably. But above all, it signalled to the world that India abides by a rules-based order and despite being a much larger and powerful country, would not stoop to elbowing a smaller neighbour or disrespect any outcome under the UNCLOS.
Sagarmala 28. For India to reach out to her neighbours, our own economic foundations in the maritime domain need to be strengthened first. The Sagarmala Project was approved by the Indian Government on 25 Mar 2016. Under it, a National Perspective Plan (NPP) has been prepared for comprehensive development of India’s coastal infrastructure and the maritime sector. With four major components – Port Modernisation & New Port Development; Port Connectivity Enhancement; Port-linked Industrialization and Coastal Community Development, the project envisions a transformative impact on India’s EXIM trade and logistics competitiveness. It springs out of India’s need to prioritize, to target gaps in logistics connectivity, infrastructure and efficiency, thereby laying down a strong foundation for a Blue Economy. Once in place, this will be a major facilitator for furthering relations on all fronts with our maritime neighbours.
29. India has already begun to lay the groundwork for a robust Blue Economy. In her inaugural address at the Indian Ocean Conference, on 31 Aug 2017, Smt Sushma Swaraj, Hon’ble Minister of External Affairs formally affirmed India’s engagement of our neighbours in the Blue Economy Initiatives. The recent relaxation of Cabotage Laws is another positive signal that the Government’s focus on ease of doing business has not overlooked the maritime domain.
SAGAR 30. Given the scale and complexity of challenges, maritime stability in the region cannot be the preserve of one nation. It has to be a shared goal and responsibility of the littorals. In Mar 2015, during a visit to Mauritius, the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India put forth the concept of SAGAR meaning “Ocean” and an acronym for “Security And Growth for All in the Region”. This is a clear, high-level articulation of India’s vision for the Indian Ocean where it is the key pivot not only geographically but by virtue of a shared historical and cultural heritage with most of the maritime neighbours. The key elements of the initiative are enhancing capacities for safeguarding maritime territories and interests, deepening economic and security cooperation, promoting collective action to deal with natural disasters and maritime threats, working towards sustainable regional development through enhanced collaboration and engaging with our maritime neighbours with the aim of building greater trust and promoting respect for maritime rules, laws and peaceful resolution of disputes. SAGAR, in effect, is an extension of the Sagarmala Project into the foreign policy domain.
MDA 31. Post 26/11, India realized the need for 24×7 surveillance against seaborne threats. As a result, we have established a chain of static sensors at 46 locations on the Indian coastline to enhance MDA. In Phase-II of the scheme, 38 radars stations along with integration of 13 VTMS sites and 04 Mobile Surveillance Systems are envisaged.
32. Other nations are also realizing that events outside their waters, especially those in a neighbouring country, can have grave repercussions for them and that only a neighbouring nation can be a realistic first responder in any crisis or catastrophe. There are three MDA networks is SE Asia. Two of these – ReCAAP ISC, of which India is a member and IMB PRC, Kuala Lumpur are purely piracy/maritime robbery centric. The third, Information Fusion Centre (IFC) is the most broad-based and keeps tabs on 08 types of maritime security incidents and vessel data. The other MDA networks in the IOR are not so formally established and cater only to the piracy proneand oil rich Western Indian Ocean. The Djibouti Code of Conduct, though designed to mirror ReCAAP in some ways, is yet to take off.
Thus, India and her maritime neighbours fall in a sort of blind spot as far as formal multilateral MDA is concerned. Accordingly, India has taken a lead and installed 06 radars in Sri Lanka, 08 in Mauritius and 01 in Seychelles. Radars were also planned to be installed in 26 atolls in the Maldives with 10 in the first phase. However, the project is still to get underway. India has also offered the radar system to Myanmar, Bangladesh and Thailand and offered to set up a pilot project in one of the Indonesian islands. These radars will be networked with the Indian Coastal Radar System(CRS), centrally coordinated by the Integrated Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC), to enhance regional MDA.
33. The public nature of the CSR development highlights India’s openness about its enduring security interest in the Indian Ocean and its desire to share its capacity and capabilities with her neighbours in ensuring better MDA for countering sea-borne threats. It is a collaborative exercise with partner countries which addresses their own maritime security priorities, and, if taken to its logical conclusion and buttressed by other initiatives, could seal India’s position as the most significant net provider of MDA in the waters of the Indian Ocean.
China’s Influence 34. Ladies and Gentlemen, can any discussion be complete without acknowledging the elephant in the room? The “String of Pearls” was a term much bandied about till a few years ago – Naval bases in Djibouti, Gwadar, Hambantota, Chittagong, Sittwe, Coco Islands, etc. which would be eventually used by China to choke India. This has now acquired overland linkages and metamorphosed into the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or One Belt One Road (OBOR). Even though many experts dismiss the idea of BRI being a threat, China’s intransigence in international disputes, the latest episode of which is playing out in the South China Seas, is something which can never be taken lightly. China, aware of its leverage, is questioning the world order and aiming to create a structure favourable to its own interests. And, India cannot, for want of resources and capital, play the same game. Faced with this, we are at last realizing the truth of what Polonius said to Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet – “To thine own self be true, and it shall follow, as the night the day……” We are now looking inwards in search of answers.
35. The creation of maritime and infrastructural assets, development of the hinterland and the last mile connectivity to all our VAs & VPs that the Sagarmala Project is set to accrue, should not only lay a stronger economic foundation but dual use of the same should also stand us in extremely good stead in countering China from a maritime security perspective. As a bonus, it could even open up more accessible economic corridors for Nepal and Bhutan and keep Chinese influence at bay and; if the SAGAR initiative achieves even half of what it promises, China’s hopes of emasculating India in the IOR will never materialize.
Conclusion 36. To conclude, India has always taken a moral and principled stand in all matters related to our maritime neighbours. However, till a few year ago its idealism was being construed as weakness – mere lip service without much to show on the ground. Till now India was seen to be reluctant to take the lead, to assert itself and speak out. Now India seems to be evolving a proactive three–pronged strategy – improving governance and formulating intelligent policies, building human and infrastructural capacities and deepening international cooperation.
The hitherto ad-hoc and fragmented initiatives in response to perceived threats are coalescing into a coherent roadmap. Unlike in the past, our initiatives are not merely reactions to a situation but well-modulated recognition of the need for a larger maritime plan to secure out strategic interests in the region. Our reaffirmation of positive engagement with the littorals is more strident. It is based on mutual respect and consideration but underpinned by a strong economic and regional development agenda.
37. The “Look East” policy of 1992 has become a proactive “Act East” policy of 2015 to promote economic cooperation, forge cultural ties and develop strategic relationships with ASEAN countries at bilateral and regional levels. The Government have been making concreted efforts to reach out to our neighbours. And the Sagarmala and SAGAR initiatives are prime examples of this holistic vision.
38. As Benjamin Disraeli said, “Nations have neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies, only permanent interests”. So, ensuring a non-hegemonic and inclusive approach to rules-based maritime governance is the mantra. . . .
An approach where growth aspirations and economic imperatives of our neighbours are factored in, where there is a realization that symbiotic efforts at exploration and exploitation of the emerging Blue Economy is the only logical way ahead.
39. And finally for a “peaceful periphery” new life must be infused into ongoing multilateral initiatives. It is the transparent, symbiotic one-on-one bilateral or trilateral interfaces that we engage our neighbours in; which shall bear the most significant results.
Thank You & Jai Hind