NO: DELENG / 2017 / 70663
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Dr.Malini V. Shankar, (IAS,) Chairman of National Shipping Board, Former Director General of Shipping Member, Board of Governors, World Maritime University, Malmo, Sweden
By Sea and Coast | 04/12/2020

Raising Maritime Consciousness – A need for concerted approach

Sea power is highly versatile and extensive. It can isolate and support wartime strategies and tactics on land. It could simply be a means to signal, in quite visible ways, a state’s political mood, will or preferences 

Looking back at history, we realise that nations manifested power through the seas. The role of maritime supremacy is once again being realised as the key to global power. China’s assertive stance in the Indo-Pacific region is part of a larger strategic design aimed at shaping the globe through domination of the maritime domain. This underlines the importance of a strong maritime policy and capabilities to strengthen our policy objectives, to protect our global interests and to exercise influence in its area of interest ² . Soon after 26/11, the Indian Navy launched the Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) in Gurugram. Jointly administered by the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard, its specific task is to enhance India’s National Maritime Domain awareness by tracking fishing boats and commercial vessels near India’s coast using data feed from space-based and terrestrial sensors as well as from other naval sources 3 . The Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) at Gurugram, Haryana, that was inaugurated in December 2018 further serves to enhance international Maritime Domain Awareness in the Indian Ocean.

By way of highlighting instances of cooperation between Indian Navy and Merchant Navy, I would like to cite the following:

  •  Development of National Automatic Identification System (NAIS) jointly by the Navy, DGS and others 
  • Indian naval vessel escort to Indian merchant vessels and other foreign vessels carrying Indian cargo in piracy infested waters, off the coast of Somalia, since 2008
  • Long range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) and International Code for Security of Ports and Ships (ISPS code)
  • Assistance of navy in re-floating MV Wisdom after grounding – 11 June 2011
  • Rescue of crew mobbers by naval Sea King helicopters

Despite the hoary maritime past and despite the impressive economic growth witnessed in the last two decades, Indian commercial tonnage has remained stagnant even as our participation in global seafarers’ community has multiplied. The key question I would like to raise in this context, from the viewpoint of merchant navy is: Are we leveraging our sea power sufficiently? I will try to break this down in 4 segments.

1.) What is the level of technological and human resource capability among stakeholders, and how can it be enhanced?

The Indian navy produces some of the best hydrographers in the country. This knowledge is limited to naval officers. We can consider introducing a course in IMU on hydrography with Naval Hydrographers who are the sole experts in this sector. We can explore a spectrum of training programmes and courses for career progression in commercial shipping – chartering, insurance, shipping & port management to name a few. The IMU is currently in talks with Coast Guard for a range of training/ regular courses

2.) How do we enhance the level of cooperation and partnership between the actors in the context of maritime security?

Post the 9/11 event, there was a lurking fear that terrorist may hijack a merchant ship and attack Mumbai high assets. Since the vessels were allowed to pass close to Bombay High, the response time with Navy would not have been adequate. Hence, recommended shipping routes were notified by DGS to keep the merchant vessels track a safe distance from Mumbai high to address naval concerns. Further cooperation is possible in several other areas. Fishing lanes need to be demarcated from shipping lanes. The south west coast of India sees one of the highest densities of shipping traffic, and there have been recent incidents involving fishing boats and merchant shipping boats. This is also the region with myriad fishing boats and trawlers criss-crossing the waters and venturing out to high seas. Demarcating lanes for fishing would not only help in preventing incidents, but also enhance the exchange of information flow from the perspective of security. Rescue operations at sea have been a well coordinated effort in the past. However, there is a huge opportunity for collaboration in salvage operations. Normally, the ship owner is covered by P & I Club for wreck removal but more often than not the help is delayed and cannot prevent damage on the coast. Expertise in salvage rests with international firms, and we need to reduce dependence on foreign salvage companies. The DGS, DGLL and offshore agencies like ONGC could do with support in this aspect. It is time to think of a concerted effort to establish an Indian entity with the highest level of expertise in salvage operations.

3.) Is there space and scope for merchant navy to enhance collaboration with Indian navy?

We may recall the ship collision incident near the Ennore Port (Chennai) in January 2017. The collision led to oil spill which called for intense cooperation between various stakeholders related to shipping. The frontend operations were led by the Indian Coast Guard and the back-end negotiations (with P & IN Club, government entities, petroleum companies, civil society groups that represented those who had lost livelihood etc..) were led by the DG Shipping. The negotiation exercise resulted in considerable compensation by the insurers to the Government – the first such successful negotiation for India. One of the observations from that exercise was that the coordination needs to be more robust. For instance, we found that SoPs were not readily available or understood by all stakeholders, we lost time in retrieving and acquiring equipment, and there had been no joint drills in the recent past. 

More recently, there have been instances of vessels carrying sanctioned cargo. There is a felt need to jointly assess and identify flags that are suboptimal and pose a risk to Indian coast (flags that have untrained crew, no endorsements, unqualified for discharging cargo, loading cargo). The responsibilities of assessing security go beyond the scope of any single agency; the authority of the DG Shipping is limited to Port State Control. SoPs may need to be drafted in mutual consultation for declaring manifest prior to arrival at port in the interest of maritime security Another area of possible collaboration pertains to the issue of Floating Armouries. The DG Shipping has flagged the issue in the meetings in the International Maritime Organisation, London. These are private, unregulated vessels offering armed protection to ships, mostly registered in countries like Mongolia. The objective behind the initiative of the DG Shipping is to formalise regulation of these armouries and thereby protect the Indian waters.

4.Can we contribute our might to increasing India’s “soft power”?

From a view point of educational institution, we need to encourage the institution of scholarships for students, and facilitate the exchange of faculty between nations. We can also identify research projects of vital importance to the Indian Ocean or the Region. We have extended the LRIT facility to some of our littoral neighbours. Lastly, we need to recognise that there are several organisations that work independently to raise awareness regarding maritime sector. These include entities like MAPS (Maritime Awareness Programme Society), Sea Cadet Corps, NCC and Sea Guides, besides organisations of seafarers such as NUSI and MUI. The awareness regarding any sector would be higher if it includes common folk in its fold. Water transport, the most ancient and common means of transporting people and goods, has been overtaken by road and air transport in the preceding decades. The Government’s effort to rejuvenate water transport is a step in the right direction to bring people closer to the waters.

In this context, cruise ships play a big role in familiarising people with the sea, with ships and with the seafaring community. In earlier years, students have been invited aboard commercial vessels; I have had the good fortune of boarding MV Vishwa Vijay during my school days – my first introduction to a huge ship. Security and Safety protocols have been a barrier to such people-ship interactions, and we need to find new ways to enhance the visibility of the maritime community. To this end, I propose that we launch a “Sea Congress” on the lines of Indian Road Congress. The Road Congress offers a platform for al stakeholders to deliberate on technical, operational, policy and institutional capability issues. The Sea Congress, likewise, can be an opportunity for us to meet and work towards the common goal of raising maritime consciousness.