The heinous attack of November 26, 2008 on Mumbai by a group of terrorists belonging to Pakistan’s Lashkar e Taiyyaba, who came by the sea route, without being detected, exposed many weaknesses and lacunae in India’s coastal security. The attack shook the government into realising the urgent need to tighten the security of India’s long coastline of 7,600 km, including its island territories and 2,000,000 square km of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). A beginning was made by the ministries of defence and home affairs deciding on sanctioning of long overdue equipment, activities like increased patrolling, joint tactical exercises and multi-dimensional expeditions to explore and familiarise the armed forces with stretches of India ’s vast seaboard.
In February 2009, the government designated the Indian Navy as the authority responsible for overall maritime security, which includes coastal security and offshore security, assisted by the Indian Coast Guard (ICG), state marine police forces and other central and state agencies. The ICG was designated as the authority responsible for coastal security in territorial waters including areas patrolled by the coastal police. Further, to ensure that assets are optimally deployed and there is synergy between the two organisations, the Navy was assigned to control all Navy and Coast Guard joint operations.
The ICG is the smallest armed force under the Ministry of Defence (MOD). Its jurisdiction of India’s coastline and EEZ involves patrolling the distance between the shore and 12 to 200 nautical miles. From 74 vessels, the ICG fleet has grown to 162, including four advance offshore patrolling vessels, three fast patrolling vessels, two hovercraft and one harbour craft. Its air wing has increased from 44 aircraft in 2008 to 58 aircraft.
To infuse urgency in boosting coastal security, the Offshore Security Co-ordination Committee (OSCC) met in Mumbai on January 8 under the chairmanship of Rajendra Singh, Director General Indian Coast Guard, to review the preparedness and effectiveness of the security of India’s offshore installations. Constituted in 1978 to ensure smooth and effective functioning of offshore security arrangements, the OSCC is the apex body for reviewing and evaluating offshore security in India. The Committee, comprising members from the ICG, Navy, Air Force, Intelligence Bureau, Ministry of External Affairs, Police and Oil and Natural Gas Commission, meets every six months to examine issues related to the safety of national offshore assets.
Singh underlined the importance of oil exploration in maritime regions and the need for a secure environment for exploration and production activities. Highlighting the challenging impact of climate change, which saw 14 depressions and seven cyclones in 2018, he emphasized the need to adapt equipment, systems, operations and doctrines for climate change and natural disasters. Singh stressed the importance of pre-emptive measures and coordination among agencies during disasters.
Drawing attention to the challenges posed by trans-boundary and dynamic maritime threats, Singh urged collective thinking and a coordinated approach to achieve offshore security, like inter-agency coordination, surveillance around offshore development agencies, and urged involved agencies to address pending issues urgently, within the deadlines. As an economically progressive peninsular nation with probabilities of maritime asymmetric threats, there must be an optimum balance between economics, productivity and security to ensure the nation’s demand for energy and security were met.
In collaboration with National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), the ICG held the first of its kind two-day national level seminar “Maritime Disaster Management in India- Risk to Resilience” in New Delhi on January 11 and 12. Over 70 delegates from various agencies across the country related to disaster management, including National Disaster Management Authority, Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries, State Disaster Management Authorities from Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, ISRO, IMD, Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff and National Disaster Relief Force participated to improve preparedness and response towards maritime disasters.
Delivering the keynote address, Lt Gen NC Marwah (retd), member NDMA, brought out the need for greater cohesion and optimising resources between armed forces, civil administration and community to improve response and preparedness during disasters.
Highlighting vulnerabilities of the Indian coast, ICG Additional Director General VSR Murthy said the risks involved in maritime disasters were greater than disasters over land; therefore planning, preparedness and coordination assume greater importance. He said no single agency or administration can fulfill all roles in the disaster sequence; hence knowing each other's strengths, leveraging technology, domain specific skills, integration with community and learning lessons from past disasters will provide ways to improve capabilities and preparedness in managing risks and challenges posed by such disasters.
The ICG organized the seventh National Pollution Response Exercise at Mumbai from January 7-11, a table-top exercise, which included a workshop titled “Marine Environment Protection”. The workshop comprised presentations by delegates from the Coast Guards of Bangladesh, Japan, Korea and Sri Lanka, and the National Institute Of Oceanography, Directorate General Shipping, Oil and Natural Gas Commission and ICG.
In addition, the US Coast Guard, Australian Border Force, Vietnam Navy, Thailand Coast Guard, Tanzania Maritime Department, Seychelles Coast Guard, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Mozambique Maritime Department, Maldives National Defence Force, Mauritius Police Coast Guard, Kenya Maritime Authority, Indonesian Coast Guard, Benin Maritime Department and Cambodia Maritime Department all participated as international observers.
A table-top exercise simulating a mock oil-spill disaster was also organised. For a realistic demonstration, a sea exercise with participation of major platforms of stake holders and the ICG capabilities was held on January 9 off Mumbai harbour to combat a real oil-spill scenario. The exercise was intended to validate procedures for inter-agency coordination and preparedness of the ICG, which holds the largest stockpile and capabilities in South-East Asia for marine oil spill response, resource agencies and other stakeholders in responding to a major oil spill in Indian waters and littoral states.
Considering the extent of India’s coastline and the multiple threats and liabilities it faces, particularly in context of the 26/11 attack, and while the Indian Navy and Coast Guard have increased and maintained their alertness, related agencies from coastal states must do much more to ensure security of their coastal stretches, ports and harbours.
(The author, a strategic analyst and former Ministry of Defence and Indian Army spokesperson, can be contacted at email@example.com)