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Proliferation of non state actors in Indian Ocean is a cause for worry India

India said the worrying trend in the Indian Ocean Region has been the proliferation of violent non-state actors and networks at sea, which harbors numerous challenges and demands a recalibrated outlook to collective Maritime Security, Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar, Deputy Chief of Naval Staff said on October 22. 

Addressing the Galle Maritime dialogue, a Summit of the Maritime nations of the region including China in Sri Lanka, the top Indian Naval officer said maritime piracy and maritime terrorism are the two major ways in which non-state actors threaten to jeopardize the security of the maritime domain, with a direct influence on land affairs. The collective manner in which the World responded to the piracy in Gulf of Aden bears testimony to the impact which we can have when we join hands to curb the menace of these non-state actors. , 

The reduction in piracy incidents gives us a suitable example of what collective maritime security can achieve, thus embodying the true essence of collaborative maritime engagement. 

The other threats and challenges in the maritime domain include drug running, arms and human trafficking and indeed poaching and fishing in the deep sea areas, which is a major threat and challenge in the waters around us. To counter any of these threats is a challenging task because non-state actors which operate these illegal activities have anonymity of identity and intent. They have transnational links and patronage, and at times the money trails go across the oceans and across various countries. 

Recognizing this intertwined nature of maritime security challenges in the IOR and the critical need for developing collaborative maritime partnerships, the Indian Navy has accorded a high degree of priority to maritime engagement with regional partner states. 

Those who attended the Galle Dialogue last year, would recall the very fruitful discussions on the theme ‘Fostering Strategic Maritime Partnerships’. This year’s theme ‘Synergising for Collaborative Maritime Management’ takes this thought forward to a much broader canvas. This is truly indicative of a progressive approach that Galle Dialogue has adopted to carry forward the discussions in a result-oriented manner

 India’s vision of the Indian Ocean was echoed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent remarks at the BIMSTEC Summit, in which he highlighted the significance of Blue Economy on the peace, growth and prosperity of the region.

The countries in the region share the common vision of having our Ocean space free of all forms of crime and violence. And in this quest for fuelling the growth and well-being of the region, we as the maritime security providers of our respective countries have a pivotal role to play. Because, only when there is peace on the oceans, will the trade, commerce and all another associated activities, which fuel our nation’s growth prosper. 

The Indo – Pacific region around us remains in a state of strategic dynamics. As the geo-strategic environment evolves in the region, it is the ability of countries to adapt to the emerging challenges that will decide the contours of the resultant geo-economic and geo-political landscape.

We as responsible global citizens, therefore, need to find ways to avoid conflicts. One of the approaches to conflict avoidance is to make all stakeholders equal participants in the development process. 

Adding to the flux and friction of numerous diverse, complex and multi-layered security challenges, we are also witnessing the return of ‘great power politics’in the region. One of the most important outcome of this ‘great power politics’ is the growing relevance of regional balances and constellations. In this era, ‘Issue based convergence’ seems to be the new norm, in order to balance converging and conflicting interests.

 The challenges to security in our region are numerous and unique in their origin, intensity and complexity. The Indian Navy’s initiatives such as the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium – IONS; and MILAN – the biennial gathering of regional navies at Port Blair, have enabled constructive dialogue amongst navies of the Indian Ocean Region. 

The year marks 10 years of IONS and it is indeed heartening to see that this initiative has evolved into a maritime organization of the Indian Ocean Region with potential to enhance cooperation in a grouping that otherwise seems too unwieldy because of its intrinsic diversity. 

To mark the 10th anniversary of IONS, we have planned an elaborate bouquet of commemorative activities in November this year at Kochi which will also include a seminar and a tall ship regatta from Kochi to Muscat. 

India actively participates in numerous regional maritime exercises with our partner states. In addition to bilateral maritime exercises with numerous countries in the region, we also undertake Coordinated Patrols to safeguard our common maritime boundaries with our maritime neighbors. 

India has also been providing assistance such as EEZ surveillance to other nations of the region based on their request.  India – Sri Lanka maritime engagement has been one of the pillars of our bilateral regional engagement. The very successful conduct of SLINEX – 2018 stands testimony to the growing scope and depth of our maritime partnership. 

In addition to our cooperative engagement with partner states, we have also recalibrated our own operational philosophy to meet the attendant security challenges. ‘Mission Based Deployment’ is one step by the Indian Navy to demonstrate this resolve and our Task Groups are deployed around the year across the length and breadth of the Indian Ocean. Waters beyond the Indian Ocean are also frequented as part of our international maritime engagements in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Their presence facilitates a high degree of strategic situational awareness and a timely response should any contingency arise. 

To bridge this informational gap, the Indian Navy is assisting partner states by setting-up a Coastal Radar Surveillance System and mutual sharing of shipping information through a White Shipping Information Exchange agreement, which we have already concluded with 18 countries thus far and are in the process of expanding this further. The fused picture, available to all users as a result of this agreement significantly enhances the Strategic Maritime Domain Awareness of the region. 

The Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) of the Indian Navy has also emerged as a virtual information hub for White Shipping Information in the region. We are also in the process of setting-up an Information Fusion Centre (IFC- IOR) to further our commitment towards achieving collective maritime security in the IOR. We would also be inviting Liaison Officers from Friendly Foreign Countries (FFCs) to be a part of this construct.

nhancing interoperability between the navies of the region should be one of our key priorities. It is imperative to maintain a high degree of maritime cooperation, particularly given the dynamic and diverse nature of challenges which the region faces today.  Common security challenges, particularly large-scale environmental disasters would warrant us to operate together under testing conditions and this enhanced interoperability would play a huge role in such situations.

I see a lot of scope and merit in enhancing the cooperation of the regional navies to achieve a well-coordinated response to this ever increasing threat, particularly given the fragile nature of our eco-systems and the burgeoning challenges posed by climate change.  Not only has the IONS Working Group formulated guidelines in IOR, but we have also conducted a table-top exercise at Visakhapatnam last month. The maiden conduct of IMMSAREX last year, under the leadership of Bangladesh Navy, was the first ever operational exercise and has opened the doors for IONS to graduate from an academic platform to one with greater operational engagement. India remains fully committed towards achieving this vision of a free, Open and inclusive maritime space in the Indian Ocean Region, with complete adherence to International law. The smooth settlement of India - Bangladesh maritime boundary in accordance with an international judgment is a shining example of this approach.

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