While 1993 had witnessed explosives being landed by the sea route; the 2008 attack, saw terrorists hijacked a Gujarat-based fishing vessel — Kuber — and make their way ashore to Mumbai.
The wounds of 26/11 have left behind scars that shall remain etched forever in the country’s conscience. The November 26 attack demanded sweeping changes of the nation’s coastal security construct.
Multiple initiatives were set forth, including the National Committee for Coastal and Maritime Security (NCSMCS) in 2009, Steering Committee for Review of Coastal Security (SCRCS) in 2013, and the State and District level Coastal Security Committees in 2016.
“Though the much-awaited single-point apex level body, the proposed National Maritime Authority (NMA) is yet to be realised, an ‘inter-agency set-up’ spearheaded by the Indian Navy, has steered the course over the past 12 years,” said a top government officer.
The foremost step towards synergy was creation of Joint Operations Centres (JOC) at Mumbai, Cochin, Visakhapatnam and Port Blair. Each of these JOCs operates under a Commander-in-Chief to synergise coastal security efforts of over 15 central and coastal state government agencies.
The raising of Sagar Prahari Bal (SPB), comprising over 1,000 personnel, with the addition of over 100 Fast Interceptor Craft (FICs) has enhanced security of most major harbours.
Additionally, installation of the Harbour Defence Surveillance System, which fuses various sensors has also been a technological leap to provide comprehensive real-time situational awareness for monitoring and analysis.
The induction of Intermediate Support Vessels (ISVs) specifically to ensure security of oil platforms off the eastern and western seaboards has also greatly enhanced our energy security.
The Indian Navy is the principal maritime agency of the nation, and, undertakes close coordination with the Coast Guard and other organisations involved in coastal security operations. The Marine Police are also being empowered by coastal states and one of the key challenges was to orient and train these police personnel, who are under respective coastal state governments, to the marine environment.
“The National Academy of Coastal Policing, which is being developed near Okha in Gujarat, will be a unique institution to train Marine police in maritime laws, seamanship, boat-work, navigation, weapon-handling, usage of navigation and surveillance instruments etc,” the officer said.
The Indian Navy and Coast Guard, through their own professional schools, also continue to concurrently train these personnel.
The Navy’s operations at sea have also been complemented by regular outreach programmes to coastal fishing communities. This endeavour has reaped rich dividends and our fishing communities have been empowered as ‘eyes and ears’ of the maritime security architecture.
The government has also facilitated strengthening of legislative framework for overall maritime security such as the Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill, the Marine Fisheries (Regulation and Management) Bill and the Merchant Shipping Bill.
Even as these Bills are pending enactment, progress on augmentation and enhancement of government agencies in terms of capacity, capability and most importantly, inter-agency coordination is being steered by the Navy, in coordination with various agencies.
Another area for enhancing coastal security is Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), which is extremely challenging since India is located in one of the busiest maritime traffic regions of the world. To complicate the picture, India also has perhaps the highest density of fishing vessels in its territorial waters for a country of its size. “The setting-up of National Command Control Communication and Intelligence (NC3I) Network, which facilitates interlinking of naval and coast guard stations and development of a common operational plot, has visibly enhanced our overall MDA,” the officer said.
The Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) and associated Information Fusion Centre (IFC) at Gurugram- is the nerve-centre of the NC3I network, receives information from various sources and fuses them into a common operational picture.
The upcoming National MDA Project (NMDA) now intends to integrate a greater number of stakeholders into a common national maritime information grid, to significantly enhance overall awareness.
To evaluate effectiveness of these efforts towards the nation’s coastal security, pan-India coastal security exercise Sea Vigil, was first conducted in January 2019.
This large-scale exercise witnessed participation of more than 70 ships, 700 craft and 35 aircraft of the Indian Navy, Coast Guard, State Marine Police, Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) and other agencies, across all coastal States and Union Territories, a unique event in terms of its scale, even perhaps at the global level.
The complexity, level of participation, resolution of past imperfections, improvements in procedures and identification of inadequacies will be progressed in the next edition planned in 2021.
Consequent to infrastructure augmentation, refining of procedures, coordination amongst agencies is the resultant uptick in recent years, in terms of thwarting a number of nefarious attempts at sea, including smuggling of narcotics and explosives.
All of the above are the culmination of focussed efforts by various central and state government agencies, yet, these actions could be categorised as continual and never final. Just as security agencies have evolved, so have the perpetrators of terror from the seas – security agencies have to succeed every time; the terrorists only once!
In a recent statement to the media, Vice Admiral M.S. Pawar, Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff assured his countrymen of the Navy’s commitment, along with all stakeholders, to neutralise the threat of terrorism at, and from the seas.
The Indian Navy, in close partnership with all other stakeholders, continues to establish an electronic net and seamless surveillance mechanism along the nation’s coastline, in its ongoing quest to develop a hardy maritime security architecture.