A spate of piracy two years ago had prompted the extension of ‘High Risk Area’

The debate over India’s demand for rollback of an international guideline, which has labelled the waters close to its western coast as at a high risk of piracy, will be carried forward at a key meeting of a forum under the United Nations in Seoul on Wednesday.

Following up on the mid-January meeting in London of a subgroup that discussed India’s reservations about a vast expanse of the Arabian Sea, including the waters off South Karnataka and Kerala right down to Kanyakumari, being depicted as under the spectre of piracy, the meeting of the Working Group-3 of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS), it is reliably learnt, will contemplate the scope for a review of ‘Best Management Practices (BMP) for Protection against Somalia-based Piracy’, an industry document endorsed by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the CGPCS.

A spate of piracy-related occurrences in the Eastern Arabian Sea over two years ago had prompted the industry to extend the scope of ‘High Risk Area’ (HRA) across the Arabian Sea (areas west of 78 degree east longitude). The Joint War Risk Committee (JWRC) of Lloyd’s, a forum of insurance underwriters, also promulgated the revised contours of HRA, which sent insurance premiums of cargo ships transiting the area through the roof.

It also drove ships to choose routes abutting the coast, very often transgressing dense fishing zones, in a bid to skirt the designated ‘piracy zone.’ This detour of cargo vessels continues to cost the country dear, thanks to frequent conflicts and collisions involving fishing boats and ships leading to an escalation of violence in the contiguous seas.

An official of India’s Directorate-General of Shipping told The Hindu that the London meeting saw the country raise the pitch for a return in the scope of HRA to west of 65 degree east (almost the entire exclusive economic zone) in the Arabian Sea.

“We have been trying for a resolution to this effect, with little success. We told the forum in London that there was a marked decrease in pirate activity in the Arabian Sea after the Navy began intensive patrolling,” he said.

Anil Devli, chief executive officer of Indian National Shipowners Association (INSA), told The Hindu that the Indian delegation had used strong words to put across its point in London. “There were opposing views. After much debate, it has been decided to record the views of both sides and this matter will be deliberated at the next contact group meeting to be held in Korea,” he said.

Questioning the basis for imposition of ‘war risk premium’ (WRP) on ships transiting the region, Mr. Devli said: “INSA commissioned, with the help of Indian Navy, the plotting of incidents to show that the number of incidents on this side of 65 degree had reduced and there was no reason to continue with the WRP. We were not aware of the basis for such imposition. INSA raised this with the JWRC of Lloyd’s. INSA also met up with the security consultants to the JWRC. Papers were put up to them to support the fact that there was a huge reduction in incidents after the Indian Navy took action against pirate vessels and arrested pirates. INSA also was raising this at every international forum as well as with other bodies who, we thought, needed to be aware of the situation and the cost that Indian EXIM trade was facing.”

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