By Admiral Sunil Lanba (r)
Recently, an abandoned yacht washed ashore on the coast of Maharashtra. On examination, security agencies found weapons onboard. The discovery created a buzz as it was just before a major festival in Maharashtra. It also revived the memories of the terrorist attack of 26/11. The yacht, “My Lady Han” had sailed from Muscat for Europe but developed mechanical failure and issued a Mayday call. The crew, along with a security team, were rescued by a South Korean destroyer. The yacht was abandoned as it could not be taken in tow due to the rough sea. It drifted across the Arabian Sea and reached the coast of Maharashtra.
Our region’s numerous security challenges are unique in their origin, intensity, and complexity. The proliferation of violent non-state actors and networks at sea has been a worrying trend. The sea harbours multiple challenges and demands a calibrated outlook to collective maritime security. Maritime piracy and maritime terrorism are two major ways in which non-state actors jeopardise the security of the maritime domain, with a direct influence on affairs on land.
Post 26/11, the coastal security construct was examined in detail. The Indian Navy (IN) was entrusted with the responsibility for overall maritime security of India, including coastal and offshore security. To discharge this responsibility, the IN works in close coordination with the Indian Coast Guard (ICG), central ministries and agencies, state governments, port authorities, and other stakeholders. Several initiatives were taken over the years to have an effective coastal security system. IN has established Joint Operation Centres (JOCs) in all the four Commands which are jointly manned along with the ICG and in heightened state of alert, the state police also joins in. SOPs for coordination of various activities have been institutionalised.
The density of maritime traffic is very high along our coast. Deciphering threats in such a dense coastal environment poses a challenge. This necessitates a robust coastal Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) infrastructure. To this end, a chain of 88 coastal radar stations have been set up. The primary aim of the radar chain is to detect and track small vessels for coastal surveillance. A National Automatic Identification System on the coast has also been established. Both these chains cover the entire coastline of the country. They feed data to various operation centres across India.
Coastal communities have also been included into the security architecture. Under the Community Interaction Programmes, IN and ICG personnel visit every coastal village of India and interact with the fishing community in their local language to explain to them that they are the eyes and ears of India’s coastal security surveillance programme.
The IN also set up the National Command Control Communication and Information (NC3I) Network, integrating 51 stations of the Navy and the Coast Guard. Its headquarters in Gurugram sends the filtered and composite picture to the JOCs and the Regional and State Security Operation Centres. The Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) was established in 2014 in Gurugram. It is the nodal centre of the NC3I network.
Addressing the coastal security challenges requires a very high level of MDA and an appropriate mechanism to predict, prevent, and respond to contingencies. However, the scale, scope, and multinational nature of maritime activities makes it difficult for countries to address these challenges individually. The only way to optimally harness our individual strength is through collaborative and cooperative efforts, for which the International Fusion Centre –Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) was set up in Dec 2018.
The IFC – IOR is a collaborative construct that works with partner countries and international agencies to enhance maritime security. It also coordinates and works closely with multinational constructs and other information fusion centres. The IFC-IOR has also built capability to respond to maritime incidents and disaster relief. As part of its collaborative and capability development endeavours, it conducts a Maritime Information Sharing Workshop. The IN has also signed white shipping data exchange agreement with a large number of countries and multilateral agencies. All this information follows into the IFC-IOR and comprehensive MDA is generated. The Centre also generates fortnightly and monthly reports of all the maritime incidents in the IOR which are shared with all.
Regular coastal security exercises which involve all agencies and coastal states are conducted. A pan India exercise is also conducted every alternate year. The nation has come a long way to monitor its maritime domain and having an effective coastal security system.
The author is a former Indian Navy Chief