A year after the audacious attack, there is greater awareness of the non-traditional threat from sea. The revamped coastal security system was announced early this year.
“After 26/11, the country suddenly realised that it has sea on two sides.” This wry comment from a member of the Navy underscored the shock that the security planners were in for after the terrorists travelled by boat to reach Mumbai.
A year after the audacious attack, there is greater awareness of the non-traditional threat from sea. The revamped coastal security system was announced early this year. While the problem of coordination among various agencies at the operational level has been sorted out, it remains at higher echelons.
The concept of coastal security got defined with the Navy asked to assume overall responsibility. While the Navy is the third arm of the tri-services, in the new scenario it has the additional job of drawing and implementing a plan to curb infiltration from across the country’s 7,500-km coastline.
For the present, there are some 13 agencies controlled by different Ministries engaged in activities pertaining to coastal security, and the Navy’s suggestion to have a Maritime Security Adviser remains unfulfilled.
While the Navy and the Coast Guard fall under Defence, police is a State subject with the Home Ministry being an interface. Shipping and Transport has to take care of all merchant and fishing vessels while the Petroleum Ministry caters for offshore projects.
The Navy has to seek response from the Coast Guard, which is responsible for the safety of the area from the shoreline up to 200 nautical miles, known as the Exclusive Economic Zone, while the coastal police have to manage the areas in and around the coast.
While the government sanctioned Rs. 60,000 crore, after the Mumbai attacks, for acquisition of fast offshore patrol vessels, surveillance aircraft, fast interceptor boats and radars to plug the gaps, the process of putting them in place is time consuming.
The Coast Guard is acquiring more vessels but the issue of trained personnel will remain. Though the government has sanctioned additional 3,000 personnel, there are no shortcuts for them to gain experience.
The Navy is carrying out joint exercises involving different agencies in different States and is planning to hold soon coordinated exercises across the west and east coasts for a grand operation.
It may sound easy, but the task gets compounded as both the Navy and the Coast Guard have to train the coastal police to be able to measure up to the new responsibilities, even as the fishing community is trained to spot suspicious vessels.
“These fishing communities are providing humint [human intelligence] since they can spot the odd-one out among hundreds at set sail. Just as people became aware, after the blasts, that unidentified objects could be a bomb, now these fishing communities are becoming alert,” a top Navy official said.
Yet, it is a long road ahead. For instance, a year after just 40-odd of the sanctioned special boats for the coastal police have been operationalised, only 25 of the 97 checkposts have been put in place. Sixty-four coastal police stations have been set up.
It is only during the middle of this year that the government issued orders for installation of the Automatic Identification System in non-fishing commercial vessels operating in Indian waters and in fishing vessels over 20 metres long. The decision is part of the coastal security plan with the AIS network to be installed at a cost of Rs. 70 crore.