There are more than fifteen good reasons for the confusion that has been India’s maritime security structure. In addition to the Navy and the Coast Guard, that is the number of departments that have a role to play in maritime security and virtually no two agencies, except for the Navy and Coast Guard actually actively coordinate with each other.
A naval officer asked as to the reason for the seemingly lack of focus on maritime time security, admitted, “It is simply complete incoherence in our maritime security set-up that has led to a total failure to anticipate the terror attacks or check them when they happen.”
Lack of coordination among these agencies in the absence of a single nodal agency also helps them escape accountability as can be seen happening, with all agencies from the Navy and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) to the Coast Guard each pointing the finger at each others’ “intelligence failures”.
“There are over fifteen agencies that have something or the other to do with maritime security besides the Navy and the Coast Guard. So you have the so-called maritime police, ports trust, maritime boards, State CID, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries Boards, Ministry of Shipping, Directorate General of Shipping and Ministry of Science and Technology. The Indian Air Force (IAF) too has a role as it is in charge of the airspace above India’s maritime limits. The Customs people, Border Security Force (Marine Wing), the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence also have an interest in all of this. Not to mention, the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing. The Information and Broadcasting Ministry is the nodal agency for satellite communication facilities that vessels and trawlers require. You also have the ONGC and other oil companies involved. Now throw in the local pollution board and you have a recipe for confusion, lack of accountability, insufficiency of resources and buck-passing,” said the officer, adding, “I don’t know, maybe I’m forgetting. There could be more agencies.”
But it is not that maritime security is completely non-existent. There is a system called an Automatic Identification System (AIS) which the International Maritime Organization requires to be in place on vessels of a size of 300 Gross Tonnes or more and on all passenger ships. This transponder is fitted on these vessels and provides data on identification and course upto a distance of 20-30 nautical miles.
For longer range tracking the Long-Range Identification and Tracking System (LRIT) is used for ships trading outside the range of the coastal AIS. This system uses satellite communications for reporting positions.
“The problem is that there are over three lakh fishing boats in India that for all practical purposes leave the border of India and come back in when their nets are full. These fall under the tonnage threshold and so do not have any of these systems in place. Now these systems are expensive and lobbies have so far prevented a consensus on the installation of these systems on boards fishing vessels.,” said the officer.
“The Group of Ministers (GoM) designated the Coast Guard as the lead intelligence agency at sea. The problem is the Coast Guard just doesn’t have the infrastructure, funding or the manpower to do this. The GoM had also called for the creation of marine police wings in maritime states. I don’t think any state besides perhaps Kerala actually took any steps in this direction. There were even vague plans to set up a series of coastal radar stations but it is unclear as to when that would happen,” added the officer.
India’s Recognized Security Organization for ships and ports is the Indian Register of Shipping (IRS) which is simply a ship survey authority and has no expertise in security issues. “It is difficult to expect the IRS to scrutinize security measures on ships and ports, said the naval officer, adding, “Right now there is hardly any intelligence sharing. What we need is a single authority for maritime security, not this confused mess, to which all other agencies report so that intelligence is properly disseminated in a timely manner. There have to be measures taken to have proper identification systems on board all ocean-capable vessels.”