Two events in recent months have underlined India's coastal security imperatives. In April this year, India's maritime security agencies apprehended a Russian couple on a sailing boat that had drifted close to the Mumbai harbour. The crew was on a sailing expedition, when it ran out of essentials and headed for the Indian coast, looking for assistance. When the boat was stopped by fishermen and handed over to the police, shocked officials had no answers as to how such a big yacht had escaped detection.
Then again, last month a foreign ship hit a fishing boat off the coast of Thiruvananthapuram and sped away, with no security agency making any effort to either contact the crew or intercept the vessel. Early, in a similar hit-and-run case off the coast of Kochi in June, two fishermen had lost their lives. Thankfully, on that occasion, the coast guard seized the culprit's vessel, but not before facing hard questions over how a foreign vessel had ventured so close to Indian waters.
While cyclone Ockhi has left a trail of destruction in the Kerala state, the coastal security in Alappuzha lies in a shambles. 200 fishermen will still missing at the time of writing this article. One of the three interceptors gutted as a result of a technical snag while it was on duty on July 9 last year has not been replaced yet. Though one more coastal police station was commissioned at Arthungal earlier this year, there has been no significant improvement in coastal security. “The station here is not of much help as the guards do not even know swimming. The police have not been conducting even mock drill and night-long searches,” said Mr Joy C. Kambakkaran, State Vice President, All- India Matsya Thozhilali Federation (AITUC).With about 39 guards authorized, currently, there are only 23 personnel.
Create National Maritime Authority (NMA)
Nine years after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, there is no sign of National Maritime Authority.Experts have often suggested the need for a Maritime Security Adviser (MSA), a Maritime Security Advisory Board (MSAB), or a Maritime Commission, etc., due to the complexity of the maritime domain and the sheer number of stakeholders.These include, the ministries of Defence, Shipping, External Affairs, Home Affairs, Petroleum and Natural Gas, Agriculture (which, strangely, administers fisheries); and agencies such as the Indian Navy (IN), Indian Coast Guard (ICG), Marine Police, DG-Shipping, the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), the Border Security Force (BSF), major and minor ports, shipyards , shipping companies, Customs, etc.
Most of these organisations are headed and staffed by bureaucrats who lack specialist domain knowledge. Further, there is an acute lack of a coordinated approach to maritime problem-solving due to compartmentalisation, turf wars, individual service loyalties and general reluctance to share information.
The country's federal structure too creates its own problems, with nine coastal states and four union territories. While some states are proactive on coastal security, others do not understand the magnitude and believe it is the Centre's responsibility and often cite lack of resources.
Policy Level Recommendations
The history of coastal security very clearly indicates that we have reacted only during a crisis situation. The history should be studied by all regularly so that we do not repeat the mistakes again.
Cargo containers could be used to transport nuclear/dirty weapons and hence there is a serious concern about container security. Containers should be scanned thoroughly under X-ray machines to ensure 100 percent security.Explosive-detection bulk and trace scanners should be installed at various key points on ports, to minimize security breaches.
The coastal areas are under threat as it is a preferred route for supply of ammunition to LWE/LWT/Maoists as per media.
The government should register all vessels and issue identity cards to all coastal population. Establishment of coastal Radar chain and AIS should be completed without further delay.
AIS is recommended for all minor boats up to 5 tons including fishing trawlers. The cost of the AIS should be subsidized by the Government. The adequate lightweight power source to run the AIS should also be provided.
Newspapers and TV Channels have reported many cases of corruption, inefficiency and dereliction of duty by security agencies. All such reports of investigative journalism should be investigated further and corrective action was taken, if found guilty. Reports by investigative journalists are generally looked into. What is needed is publishing the findings, if not impinging on security on the website by the concerned agency.
The Sunderban marshy land is a safe haven for Inter-Services Intelligence Agency of Pakistan(ISI) agents both because of difficult terrain and vote bank politics of the state government. They must be kept under constant surveillance. The ICG which has its presence in the area does not have the mandate to patrol the creeks of the Sunderbans as they lie inside the shoreline and these form part of internal waters Relaxed patrolling and surveillance of the coastal waters during the rainy season also raises security concerns.
Holistic cybersecurity policy
We require a holistic cybersecurity policy which should include a specific assessment of maritime cyber risks including other critical assets, which are dependent on maritime commerce. Cybersecurity awareness and training programmes for shipping companies and port authorities and educating the fishing industry of perils of cyber-attacks would help in prevention and mitigation of the threat. All security forces personnel should be trained to be cyber-warriors capable of defending their own cyber domain.
Oil rigs/platforms attract a large amount of fish and therefore a fishing boats operate very close to the oil rigs for fishing. Such fishing vessels can be easily utilised by inimical forces to carry out attacks on the oil rigs/support vessels.Use of nonlethal means such as rubber bullets and many other systems will prove a good deterrent.
As the traffic increases, we will need to establish geographical reporting points for each port just inside our territorial waters along with waiting areas and mandatory routes for entry into all major ports. Legitimate merchant traffic both ocean-going and coastal would need to follow these routes and this would streamline the flow of traffic making the job of the maritime enforcement agencies easier. The present 96-hour advance notice required by shipping to enter an Indian port in accordance with the ISPS code has resulted in better security management of shipping in territorial waters.
Contingencies/accidents/sabotage acts may occur in our ports and on the coastline. Responses to these must be rehearsed.
Drug smuggling across the oceans is being carried out regularly. International and intelligence cooperation, along with detection equipment is the answer.
Pakistan and Bangladesh coastline act as launch pad for maritime terror attacks, smuggling, illegal trade, infiltration of Bangladeshi citizens and many other types of sea crime. They will have to be kept under watch by technological and all other means.
National Security Guard (NSG) hubs have been set up in four more cities – Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Mumbai – the terrorists may like to try their hand on other cities. Intelligence has been strengthened; terror laws have been made more stringent, and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is functioning well. India is better prepared than ever before.
It is hoped that the government will implement additional raising of ICG and police in a time-bound manner. It is reported that very small percentage of funds for the Police under planned expenditure are utilised every financial year.
It is evident that maritime asymmetric challenges and threats require a sophisticated strategy that pivots on domain awareness, an effective intelligence apparatus, and a credible armed response. Many steps have been taken in the last many years to raise awareness and minimise the risk of attack. The most disturbing trend in India in recent years has been, the loss of faith in India itself has been overcome.
All above measures are part of defensive strategies. India has to move beyond fortress mentality to take on terrorism at its source. A comprehensive approach that relies on lateral thinking and goes beyond conventional methods is urgently required. The basic premise for any counter-terrorism policy for India should be zero tolerance.
Brig Hemant Mahajan, YSM, Def Analyst. He has recently written a Monogram on “India’s Coastal Security, Challenges, Concerns & Way Ahead” available at https://www.amazon.in/Indias-Coastal-Security-Challenges-Concerns/dp/8193406028