Saturday, October 18, 2008




"Maritime counter-terrorism has received considerable attention in India, but till now the focus has naturally and mostly been on maritimecounter-terrorism and security in the waters off Sri Lanka and in the Malacca Strait. There has been inadequate attention to terrorist threatsof a strategic nature from the seas to the west of India---- whether from the Gulf, the Arabian Sea, the Strait of Hormuz or the Mediterranean. Over 80 per cent of the terrorist organisations with a capability for maritime terrorism operate in the areas and seas to the West of India.Over 90 per cent of successful maritime terrorism strikes have taken place in the areas and seas to the West of India. Israel has been thelargest single victim of maritime terrorism in the Mediterrannean, with nearly 60 strikes by organisations such as the Hamas, the Hizbollah,the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) etc. The only two successful strikes and one unsuccessful attempt by Al Qaeda wereoff Aden. Almost our entire energy supplies come from this area. The security of the Malacca Strait has limited relevance for our energysecurity, whereas our entire energy security depends on maritime security in the areas to the West of India. One would have, therefore,expected that the concentration of our maritime counter-terrorism efforts would have been on building a database of capabilities, threatsand risks from the areas and seas to the West of India, adopting a vigorous proactive policy of co-operation with the navies of this regionand developing preventive and termination capabilities, which would have relevance in the areas to the West of India. Unfortunately, this isnot so.The Americans do not want our Navy playing any proactive role in maritime security in the waters to the West of India lest it causeany undue concern in the minds of Pakistan. They, therefore, try to keep our Navy confined to the East and the Malacca Strait. We seem tobe happy to go along with this role. This has to change. It is high time the Indian Navy starts paying more attention to threats of maritimeterrorism that could arise from the West. Presently, the deployment of a large number of naval ships belonging to the US-led coalition hasthwarted any other serious incident of maritime terrorism after the suspected Al Qaeda attack on Limburg in October, 2002 and the attackson oil terminals in Iraq post-April, 2003. We should not leave the protection of our shipping and our energy supplies totally in the hands of theUS-led coalition. We should develop our own capabilities and networking with the countries of the region."
---Extract from my article dated December 28,2005, titled MARITIME COUNTER-TERRORISM: NEED TO LOOK WEST at

"The Malacca Strait is not India's life-line. It is the life-line of China and the ASEAN countries. Our presence in the Malacca Strait tickles ourego and gives us a feeling of being a great power, but it does not help in protecting the lives and property of our citizens and our maritimetrade. The major threats to our maritime security are from the seas to the West of us and not to the East of us. Ninety per cent of our foreigntrade in terms of volume and 77 per cent in terms of value and practically all our energy imports pass through the seas to the West of us.There are more Indian and foreign ships with Indian crew in the seas to the West of us than to the East of us. We should reduce our overpre-occupation with the security of the Malacca Strait and devote more attention to our maritime security in the seas to the West of us."

2. This has been a point repeatedly stressed by me in my presentations on maritime security since 2004. I always found myself in a minorityof one. This was so even in a seminar on South-East Asia held at Vizag earlier this year.

3. After a recent increase in the incidents of piracy off the Somali coast and the hijacking of ships with Indian crew by the pirates, theGovernment of India has at long last been forced to take action to fill up the gaps in our maritime security in the seas to the West of us. Onewould have seen on the CNN-IBN news channel two days ago dramatic scenes of the relatives of the crew of a hijacked ship accusing theGovernment of India of inaction in the face of the threats to the lives of their relatives. Of what consolation to them that our naval ships hadin the past rescued some Japanese and Indonesian seamen in the seas to the East of us when we are not able to fulfill the obligation ofprotecting our mercantile seamen in the seas to the west of us? Today, the danger has arisen in a dramatic manner from pirates. Tomorrow,it could be from Al Qaeda or pro-Al Qaeda terrorist groups.

4.On August 15,2008, Somalian pirates hijacked a Japanese-owned merchant vessel MV Stolt Valor with 18 Indians among the 22 sailorson board. Since then, the 18 Indian crew members are being held hostage at a Somalian port and the shipping company is holdingnegotiations with the pirates for their release. India is not the only country to suffer due to the activities of the pirates in this area. Shipscarrying foodgrains and medicines for the starving people of Somalia have also been the targets of attacks by the pirates.

5. In a recent interview, Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme, said: "Time is running out for Somalia. Asmany as three million people — one-third of the country — live under threat of starvation. Their lifeline is the sea, from which food, medicalsupplies, and other aid arrives. And there lies the problem. Heavily armed bands of modern-day pirates in speedboats are terrorising ships inSomalia’s coastal waters. So far this year they have raided more than 50 vessels, stealing cargos and hijacking ships, from private yachts tooil tankers, and extorting some $100 million a year in ransom. Just a few weeks ago, a Ukrainian freighter carrying heavy weaponry,including tanks, was hijacked. A Greek petrochemical carrier was seized, and another attacked, as was an Iranian oil tanker. These piratescurrently hold more than a dozen ships hostage in Somali ports. Ships laden with tens of thousands of tons of maize, sorghum, split peas,and cooking oil from the United Nations World Food Programme and other international aid organisations must navigate these dangerouswaters. Keeping Somalia’s sea-borne supply line open is imperative. It carries 90 per cent of the humanitarian assistance delivered by theWFP, which in turn supplies nearly 90 per cent of the aid that feeds so many Somalis.These pirate terrorists are not particularly powerful.Estimates put their number at around 1,200. But they are growing increasingly brazen, all the more so when not confronted. Since November 2007, following a series of pirate raids, Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark, and France deployed naval frigates to escortWFP aid ships safely into harbour. Under their protection, not a single ship has come under attack, ensuring the uninterrupted flow ofassistance. Yet despite that clear success, the future is uncertain. The Canadian naval mission ends in late October, and no country hasstepped forward to replace it. Without naval escorts, food aid will not get to Somalia. The WFP has stockpiled sufficient supplies to keeprelief flowing for some days. But once those warehouses are empty, the country and its people will be on their own. I am optimistic thatsome nation will come to the rescue — but we must not risk this happening too late, or not at all. Beyond that, we need a long-term plan. Weat the United Nations are duty-bound to do what compassion and human decency demand of us. Is the world really going to stand by andwatch more children die of starvation? Somalia’s political future is uncertain at best. Yet we need to set to work on a plan for deploying aviable multinational force to help secure peace there, or at the very least sustain its people. There is a clear way to begin. The first step isfor some country or countries to volunteer the naval force needed to preserve Somalia’s humanitarian lifeline. The next is to develop acomprehensive strategy, in conjunction with the UN Security Council, to eliminate piracy in Somali waters. "

6.According to news agency reports, Somali pirates have seized more than 30 ships this year and attacked many more. Most attacks havebeen in the Gulf of Aden between Yemen and north Somalia, a major global sea artery used by about 20,000 vessels a year heading to andfrom Suez, including Gulf oil shipments. The most dramatic incident has been the hijacking of an Ukrainian ship MV Faina carrying 33 tanksbound for an unidentified destination. The Kenyan and Ukrainian authorities have claimed that these tanks are meant for Kenya, but theAmericans seem to suspect that the ship was carrying these tanks for the autonomous government of South Sudan, in possiblecontravention of a UN arms embargo.The pirates ,estimated to be 50 in number, are reportedly demanding a ransom of US $ 20 million forreleasing the ship with its cargo and crew. An American and a Russian naval ships have reached the area, but have refrained fromintervening so far---- probably due to some unconfirmed reports that the ship was also carrying some chemicals.

7.A spokesman for the US Navy's 5th Fleet, Lt Nathan Christensen, has been quoted by news agencies as saying that the USS Howard waswithin 8km (5 miles) of the Ukrainian vessel, but refused to say whether they were preparing to attack the pirates. He said the ship's cargoof battle tanks made it a particularly worrying situation. "We're concerned that this might end up in the wrong hands, such as terrorists orviolent extremists," he said.

8. In the wake of these developments, the Government of India announced on October 16,2008,the deployment with immediate effect of an Indian naval warship with helicopters and marine commandoes on board in the Gulf of Aden to carry out anti-piracy patrols on the routeusually followed by Indian commercial vessels between Salalah ( Oman) and Aden (Yemen). A Government spokesperson said: " Thepresence of the Indian Navy warship in this area will be significant as the Gulf of Aden is a major strategic choke point in the Indian Oceanregion and provides access to the Suez Canal through which a sizable portion of India's trade flows. This anti-piracy patrol will be carriedout in co-ordination with the Directorate-General of Shipping , who will keep Indian flagship vessels informed in case they want to travel inthe Indian Ocean along with the Indian Navy ship. The presence of the Indian Navy in the area will help to protect our seaborne trade andinstil confidence in our seafaring community as well as function as a deterrent for pirates."

9. This statement and other clarifications by the Government spokespersons have highlighted the following:

This is a permanent measure to protect vessels with Indian flags and Indian crew carrying goods for India.

It is not a one-shot measure triggered off by the hijacking of a Japanese ship with Indian crew.

The deployment of more ships for the anti-piracy patrol is not ruled out.

The deployment is not a prelude to intervention by the Indian ship to rescue the Indian crew.

10. While this welcome action will to some extent take care of the protection of Indian commercial ships transiting this area, it does notaddress the problem of controlling and eradicating piracy in this area. India alone will not be able to address this menace. It will have to actjointly with the navies of the US, the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf countries and possibly, one day, even Pakistan. This requirescareful study. There is a need for more and sustained joint anti-piracy patrolling and exercises in this area. (18-10-08)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )