There is a ‘doubt' that ‘other elements' are behind sea pirates, “so we have to be more careful” while dealing with piracy, Defence Minister A. K. Antony said on Friday.
Talking to a group of journalists after commissioning a Coast Guard station here, he said there were intricate issues relating to piracy. “That is why, in spite of all important nations joining hands against pirates in the Gulf of Aden, it is not coming down; in fact it is expanding,” he said in answer to a query on the legal hassles in trying pirates.
Asked about the measures taken after 26/11 to bolster coastal security, Mr. Antony said hundreds of threats had been ‘successfully met' after the Mumbai attacks. “India is on the radar of terrorists. We are under threat every day, on a 24x7 basis. So we can't take rest. We have to be constantly on the vigil. The armed forces … are always vigilant. Last year, 14 [hijacking] attempts were made by pirates near the Minicoy island. The Navy and the Coast Guard … deployed their forces, and now it has reduced. So we are facing threats, but taking actions too.”
Mr. Antony said it was increasingly important to secure the country's island territories, especially the ones that are uninhabited.
On the capability-building of the coastal security agencies, he said three Coast Guard district headquarters and eight stations had been commissioned after the Mumbai attacks. “We are also … setting up 38 static radars. These radar stations coming up across India will be commissioned by November 2011. The force levels of the Coast Guard are being doubled. The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is manufacturing 12 Dornier aircraft for the force. We are strengthening the Coast Guard and the Navy and, along with them, work the Coastal Police under various State governments. So compared with 26/11, coastal security is much better now.”
Asked whether India would form part of the counter-piracy joint naval task force proposed by some Indian Ocean littorals, he said the Indian Navy was already helping the Maldives, the Seychelles and Mauritius to tackle piracy.
On a day-long visit to the Lakshadweep group of islands, Mr. Antony inaugurated a Coast Guard district headquarters (no.12) at Kavaratti on Friday morning. Later, speaking at Minicoy, he said plans were on the anvil to upgrade the existing airfield there as a full-fledged one, capable of taking on bigger aircraft, by April 2012.
“The southernmost island in the Arabian Sea is of prime strategic importance. So it [the strengthening of the Coast Guard on the archipelago] is an important step towards ensuring fast and effective response to any fast developing security challenge at sea,” he said. Mr. Antony also praised the fishing community for alerting the forces to pirate presence off the islands.
Coast Guard Director-General Vice-Admiral Anil Chopra said the geography of the archipelago, 400 km off India's western shore, rendered it vulnerable. “Proximity to other island nations, busy shipping lanes and wide geographical stretch make it an attractive destination. The fact that these islands could be used as safe havens by anti-national elements for launching attacks cannot be ruled out.”
On piracy, he said the undaunted efforts by the navies across the world made the pirates spread out and venture into “our maritime domain.” “The eight degree channel between the Maldives and Minicoy witnesses traffic to the tune of 40 large ships a day, and here piracy is a major concern not only for the transiting vessels but also for the Indian security establishment.”
The Coast Guard planned to commission a new station at Androth with berthing and refuelling facilities and waterfront, so that big ships could be positioned there, he said.
Lakshadweep MP Hamdulla Sayeed; Vice-Admiral K.N. Sushil, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Southern Naval Command; Coast Guard Western Region Commander Inspector-General SPS Basra; Lakshadweep Administrator J.K. Dadoo; and Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar attended the function.