NO: DELENG / 2017 / 70663
official media partner of national maritime foundation
Admiral RK Dhowan (Retd), PVSM, AVSM, YSM Chairman National Maritime Foundation and Former Chief of the Naval Staff, Indian Navy SECURING INDIA’S MARITIME INTERESTS AND HARNESSING THE BLUE ECONOMY
By Admiral R K Dhowan | 18/10/2018

1. India is essentially a maritime nation with a glorious maritime heritage, and the Indian seaboard has been the vortex of intense maritime activity over centuries. The Indus valley civilisation which existed in the Western part of the country dates back to 3300BC and even today we have a dry dock at Lothal in Gujarat which dates back to 2200 BC. It is from these small ports that ancient seafarers sailed off to distant lands in Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt and East coast of Africa. Kautiliya’s Arthashastra makes a mention of the ‘Nav Parishad’ during the Mauryan Empire which is akin to the Admiralty Board for monitoring maritime issues.  


2. On the East coast of India, we had the seafaring kingdoms of the Kalingas, Cholas, Pandyas and the Cheras who sailed off to distant countries in South East Asia and even today we can see glimpses of India’s cultural heritage in these countries. India’s maritime capabilities also made it an economically powerful country. As documented by the historian Angus Madison, India had the largest GDP in the world till around 1500 AD, with China being its closest competitor and India and China together accounted for more than 50% of the world’s GDP.


3. The British period in India was also a period of extensive shipbuilding activity. Commencing 1753, and over the next hundred years, Bombay Dockyard built about 144 merchant ships and 115 war vessels, including 84 gunships for the Royal Navy. The oldest warship afloat in the world today, HMS Trincomalee, which is now berthed in Hartlepool in UK was built in India. The national anthem of United States of America was written by Francis Key in Baltimore, on board the ship HMS Minden which was built in the Bombay Docks. The treaty of Nanking ceding Hong Kong to the British was signed onboard another famous warship HMS Cornwallis, which was also built in India.


4. Regrettably, when the transition took place from ‘sail to steam’ and ‘wood to steel’, India was left behind as she was not part of the industrial revolution. The revival of our maritime capabilities took place only post-independence in the latter part of the 20th century.


5. Today, India occupies a dominant position in the Indian Ocean, as the country sits astride busy sea lines of communication, which transit across the Indian Ocean, over which nearly 1,20,000 ships transit every year carrying 66 per cent of the world’s oil, 50 per cent of the world’s container traffic and 33 per cent of the world’s cargo traffic.


6. Our blue planet, the Earth has a dominance of the maritime domain with over 70% of the Earth’s surface covered by water, nearly 80% of the world population living within 200 nautical miles from the coast and about 90% of the world’s trade transiting by sea. Oceans are central to life on earth.  They are rich in oil and mineral resources, they are suppliers of oxygen, absorber of carbon-di-oxide, a virtual heat sink, rich in bio-diversity and have emerged as the global economic highways for transit of trade. With depletion of resources on land, humankind has turned towards the seas for resources and there is a misperception that oceans have an unending resource base and are an infinite sink, but nothing could be further away from reality. Over the past few decades, we are witnessing pollution of the seas and contamination of the natural marine habitat, resulting in an adverse impact of climate change on the oceans.  Studies have indicated that almost 80% of the pollutants in the seas emanate from land and if the current rate of pollution continues, in a few decades we will have more plastic in the oceans than fish.


7. The concept of ‘Blue Economy’ has emerged as the new paradigm and harnessing the same could be interpreted as economic development of our maritime interests by efficient utilisation of marine resources with minimum impact on the environment and ensuring sustainable development of the oceans.


8.   India has a unique maritime disposition with a natural outflow towards the seas with our island territories of Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal and Lakshadweep Islands in the Arabian Sea, as the virtual extended arms of India.  India has a coastline of 7516 kms and an Exclusive Economic Zone of over 2 million square kilometers. Approximately, 95% of India’s trade by volume and 72% by value transits by seas and foreign trade accounts for over 30% of India’s GDP.


9.   India has vast maritime interests, which have a vital relationship with the nation’s economic growth. In recent years, under the leadership of Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, there have been series of much needed initiatives and intense activity in the maritime domain, coupled with the transition from ‘Look East’ to the ‘Act East’ policy.  These initiatives will act as catalysts to strengthen the growth of India as a credible maritime power. India’s vast maritime interests are also enablers of our Blue Economy, and the entire span of maritime sectors are likely to witness significant growth in the coming years, and will also serve as avenues for maritime cooperation with other neighbouring countries.


10.   India has 12 major ports and 200 intermediate and minor ports. The port handling capacity of these ports which currently stands at approximately 1500 million metric tons per annum is likely to increase to 2500 million metric tons per annum over the next ten years. The Government of India has launched the ambitious Sagarmala project, which is a port-led development initiative based on pillars of port modernisation, connectivity, port-led industrialisation and coastal community development.  Sagarmala actually comprises about 150 integrated projects with a planned investment of about 60 billion US Dollars. Development of greenfield Port Infrastructure could be an area of maritime cooperation which will also generate substantial employment in the maritime sector.


11.   India currently has over 15,000 kms of navigable inland waterways and in the first phase, the government is developing 4,500 kms as five major national waterways. Currently, 94 percent of freight in India moves by road or rail and development of inland waterways will enhance transportation over water, which is cheaper (economical), faster and cleaner. The planned development of additional Inland Waterways presents a huge opportunity for investment and growth in India.


12.   The mercantile marine and shipping industry is also envisaged to grow in the near future. India currently has a merchant ship fleet of approx. 1,174 ships flying the Indian flag totaling nearly 22 million Gross Registered Tons (GRT). While over 90% of India’s trade by volume transits by sea, the share of Indian shipping in India’s foreign external trade has declined from about 30% in the 1980s to approximately 70% today. To enable India’s growing foreign trade to be carried on Indian hulls, the Indian Government is providing incentives for Indian registered shipping and  has initiated measures to increase the tonnage of ‘Indian Controlled Shipping’.


13.   India has a vibrant shipbuilding and warship building industry with 27 shipyards. Recently, the Government of India has given a major boost to the shipbuilding industry by according it special infrastructure status and permitting 100 per cent Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in shipbuilding. Joint venture partnerships between shipyards could be avenues for future maritime cooperation, and enhancing employment opportunities in the shipbuilding sector.


14.   The warship building industry in India is firmly anchored on self-reliance and indigenization.  The Indian Navy set up its naval design directorate in 1964. India built its first indigenous naval warship, a patrol vessel INS Ajay in 1961 at Garden Reach Shipyard in Kolkata. Over the past 50 years our naval designers have designed and our indigenous shipyards have built ships for the Indian Navy resulting in our transformation from buyers Navy to builders Navy. Today it is a matter of great pride that all 40 ships and submarines under construction are being built in Indian shipyards both public and private. These range from aircraft carrier to frigates, destroyers and submarines. It is our endeavor to progressively increase the indigenous content so that future warships and submarines are 100% Made in India.


15. The fishing industry is another sector which provides significant opportunities for growth. India has approximately 2, 50,000 fishing boats, with 4 million active fishermen and 14 million people as part of the fishing community. The annual marine fish landings in India are over 10 million tons which accounts for approximately 5.3% of the world’s production. The sector contributes around 5,511 million USD to India’s foreign exchange earnings and has a potential to grow much more.


16. However, this is only scratching the surface of the vast potential of the fishing industry in India which is largely coastal in nature, with logistic and maintenance support being provided by local, small-scale enterprises and fishing boats operating in coastal waters. There exists a huge potential for growth in the fishing sector by undertaking deep sea fishing, increasing the size and numbers of current fishing fleet and enhancing the support infrastructure for stowage, processing and transporting the catch. Deep sea fishing is another avenue where India could cooperate to harness the Blue Economy. This would also result in coastal community development and enhanced employment opportunities in the fishing sector.


17. India has over 1300 Islands and Islets as part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Lakshadweep group and Islands off the West and East Coast of India. The Government has prepared a comprehensive plan for the development of the islands, which takes into account aspects of security, economic sustenance, environmental preservation, social and cultural sustenance.  This development of the islands will ensure green field infrastructure projects with minimum carbon footprint and opportunities for controlled eco-tourism. Opening of the maritime tourism sector could open up a host of opportunities in the future, for development of marinas and cruise tourism.


18. India’s EEZ also provides offshore energy resources and we have oil and gas exploration areas off the West and East coast of India.  India has also been allocated deep sea bed mining areas in the Central Indian Ocean and these sectors are likely to register significant growth in the coming years.


19. Renewable ocean energy is another un-harnessed niche sector with immense scope in the future. This includes tidal and wave energy and ocean thermal energy conversion. It can therefore be seen that while there are an ocean of opportunities for development of maritime interests for economic growth, the challenges lie in ensuring that these are greenfield projects, with a minimum impact on the environment, to ensure sustainable development.


20.   Therefore, while India is focused on economic development of its maritime interests it is also committed to traveling down the path of sustainable development. The United Nations General Assembly, published a document in 2015 titled ‘Transforming our world’, the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development with 15 specific goals and 169 targets. Of these, SDG 14, pertains to the conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources. Towards this, India has submitted its voluntary national review report to the UN, on the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in July 2017. A clear agenda has been formulated for promoting the ‘Blue Revolution’, while charting the way ahead for preventing pollution, integrated plan for fishing, optimal utilisation of resources with minimum impact on the environment and ensuring sustainable development of the oceans.


21.   The Indian Ocean has emerged as the global economic highway, which is rich in oil and mineral resources. It is the third largest water body spanning an area of 68.5 million sq. Kms and countries on the rim of the ocean are home to nearly one third of humanity.


22. The seas are no longer a benign medium and globalisation has led to vulnerability of the oceans. The threats and challenges in the maritime domain are as wide and varied as they come and include, piracy, maritime terrorism, arms trafficking, drugs smuggling, human trafficking and poaching. Another challenge is that the waters of the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean are prone to natural disasters and the Navy and the Coast Guard, have to be ready for rapid response to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.


23.   The instabilities and turbulence on land in some parts of the Indian Ocean have the potential to spill over into the maritime domain and the situation can best be described as ‘FRAGILE’. Consequently over 120 warships from about 20 navies are always present in the Indian Ocean to safeguard their maritime interests. India has vast maritime interests and the responsibility for protecting these maritime interests fall squarely on the shoulders of men in white uniform as it is the responsibility of the Navy and the Coast Guard to ensure that our maritime interests which have a vital relationship with the nation’s economic growth are allowed to develop unhindered at all times.


24. In 2008, the Indian Navy launched a unique initiative of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) which was a construct to manage the maritime affairs of the countries of the Indian Ocean Region. Over the years the IONS has emerged as an effective organization with membership of 22 navies and four observers. In my view IONS has the potential to provide an effective template to promote cooperation in the maritime domain in the Indian Ocean Region.


25. The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is another organization which provides the avenue for the strengthening maritime cooperation between countries of the Indian Ocean Region. Incidentally, 20 members of IORA also have their navies as members of IONS, and recent years have witnessed some synergy between IONS and IORA for promoting maritime cooperation.


26. In order to further promote cooperation along navies of the world, the Indian Navy conducted the International Fleet Review at Vishakhapatnam on the East coast of India, in 2016. Fifty navies of the world came together, to strengthen bridges of friendship and we had nearly 100 ships at the review anchorage. The underlying theme of the Review was that we may be separated by geography but we are certainly united through oceans.


27. During the International Fleet Review, the Honorable Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi outlined his vision for the Blue Economy and linked the Blue chakra or wheel in our national flag with the potential of the Blue Economy. India later conducted the Maritime Summit at Mumbai in April 2016, where the Honorable Prime Minister articulated his maritime vision for the nation. India’s recent initiatives in the maritime domain, including the quest for harnessing the Blue Economy, are pointers to indicate that India has once again turned towards the seas and is destined to emerge as a resurgent maritime nation.


28. The Indian Ocean has emerged as the world’s center of gravity in the maritime domain. Another unique feature of the Indian Ocean is that 80% of the oil and trade that emanates in the Indian Ocean is extra regional in nature, this implies that if there is any impediment in the free flow of oil or trade it would have a detrimental impact not just on the economies of the region but global economy as well. Safety, security and stability on the waters of the Indian Ocean is therefore of paramount importance, and it is the collective responsibility of the navies and the coast guards to ensure the security of the global commons. Networking among navies and global maritime partnership are therefore emerging as the new order in the current century.


29. In conclusion, six major aspects require our attention as a nation:-


The United Nation’s document ‘Transforming Our World – Agenda 2030’ and the ‘Sustainable Development Goal, SDG 14’, provides a template for conservation of the oceans, seas and resources. We now need to outline a perspective plan for sustainable development and growth in different avenues of the maritime sector.


As a maritime nation, India has a significant potential to harness the Blue Economy.  We need to chart a national level maritime policy to harness the Blue Economy, for sustained development of the oceans.


There is a requirement for an apex level organization to coordinate and integrate planning process of various departments and agencies in the maritime domain for economic development of our maritime interests and implementing Blue Economy initiatives, so as to enable India to emerge as a resurgent maritime nation.


The Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) are important maritime constructs to manage the maritime affairs of the IOR.  There needs to be greater synergy between IONS and IORA to enhance maritime cooperation between countries of the Indian Ocean Region.


To fully implement the Honourable Prime Minister’s vision of SAGAR, that is, ‘Security and Growth for All In the Region’, we need to draw up a detailed roadmap for maritime cooperation with various countries of the region with a ‘whole of government approach’ so as to shape a positive and favorable maritime environment in the Indian Ocean Region.


The Honourable Prime Minister has launched a dynamic initiative of Swachh Bharat (Clean India).  We need to extend the concept to Swachh Sagar (Clean Oceans). This could be a people’s movement where we draw up an action plan and motivate every citizen and maritime agencies to  contribute towards cleaning our coastal areas, and extend the concept to ensuring clean oceans or ‘Swachh Sagar’ for our future generations.


30. The seas around us are gaining new found importance as each day goes by, because of their linkages with the Blue Economy and I have no doubt that the current century is the century of the seas. There is no doubt that our future economic well-being rests on our ability to harness the blue economy, enhance the maritime cooperation between the countries in the region and ensure sustainable development of the oceans.