Describing piracy and armed robberies in mid-sea as major threats to the stability of the Asian region, Defence Minister A.K. Antony on Wednesday said India was strengthening its capabilities to fight such threats, as well as terrorism.
Addressing the 8th Heads of Asian Coast Guard Agencies Meeting (HACGAM), he said: “India strongly believes that mutual cooperation alone is the most effective way to guarantee the security and safety of oceans.”
“The various challenges, including piracy, armed robbery, drugs and arms trafficking, and unregulated and unreported fishing to name a few, threaten both the short-term and long-term stability of the region,” Mr. Antony told the delegates. The meeting is being attended by representatives from 18 countries, including Coast Guards from China, Asia, Japan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Stressing the need for stepping up regional cooperation, he said the Indian Navy and Coast Guard regularly participated in joint exercises with many Asian nations. “It shall be our endeavour to promote such cooperative mechanisms, as a regional cooperation agreement for combating piracy and armed robbery against ships in Asia in the future,” he said.
He said that nations in the region could “prevent crimes at sea through an increase in information sharing, mutual training assistance, and proactive interactions.” In recent times, he said, crimes in the seas had acquired new dimensions.
“From theft, it has come to dangerous maritime terrorism, with a destructive aim. Piracy has also come from mere hijacking at sea, to theft of cargo, to taking hostages for ransom. Piracy and terrorism are destabilising the economy, and also have serious implications for security,” he pointed out.
Mr. Antony said that in the complex scenario where Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOCs) were being used for human trafficking and movement of stowaways, security forces must respond with a great degree of alacrity and professionalism, in real time.
“Top priority must be accorded to the creation of safe and secure oceans. Governments and law enforcement agencies must implement national and international laws that can act as a deterrent for unscrupulous elements,” he told the conference.
He said India remained committed to the security of the Indian Ocean Region by implementing international regulations, coming up with legislation for maritime safety and security, taking up cooperative mechanisms with nations, and building the capacity of law enforcement agencies. “I would like to reiterate that oceans are, and can become, a domain for goodwill interactions between nations, mutual cooperation to provide humanitarian aid, preserving maritime environment, and enforcement of law at sea. Nations must cooperate with one another to make sure there is everlasting peace and security. The Coast Guards have the potential to elevate the maritime status of a nation among littoral states,” he added.
HACGAM is an apex level forum facilitating congregation of all major Coast Guard Agencies of the Asian region. This initiative was developed initially in 2004 to discuss cooperation among the member organisations to combat piracy in the region. However, the scope of discussions has been expanded to include law enforcement, maritime security, disaster prevention and relief, and capacity building. The HACGAM is conducted every year, and seven such meets have been held.