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Cooperation among Indian Ocean navies vital to fight terrorism, says Manmohan

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DEBATING OPTIONS: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Sureesh Mehta, at the inauguration of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium in New Delhi on Thursday.
DEBATING OPTIONS: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Sureesh Mehta, at the inauguration of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium in New Delhi on Thursday.

Sandeep Dikshit

High level of trade and economic growth dictated the need to ensure security of the sea lanes

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has endorsed the initiative launched on Thursday to fashion cooperation among navies of the Indian Ocean region, saying such ties were of “paramount importance” to tackle threats of terrorism from the seas.

High level of trade and economic growth being witnessed in the region dictated the need to ensure safety and security of the sea lanes, the Prime Minister said while inaugurating the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium being attended by over 25 naval chiefs and other senior officers from Indian Ocean rim countries.

Recent years had seen rise in crimes such as terrorism, piracy and smuggling of narcotics and arms in the ocean region and navies of the littoral states must cooperate with one another to prevent trans-national crimes on the high seas.

“The perpetrators of these crimes are well-organised and well-funded trans-national syndicates who take full advantage of the vastness of oceans. The need for cooperation among the navies of the region in preventing such trans-national crimes is, therefore, of paramount importance,” he said.

As the Indian Ocean spanned 28 million sq km, hosted a third of the world population and accounted for 40 per cent of the energy sources, “these are all the reasons why we must pool our resources and knowledge and act for the common good of all.” Sea lanes of the region had emerged as one of the most important lines of communication in the world with container handling at the ports of Colombo, Mumbai, Chittagong, Bangkok and Port Klan (Malaysia) registering double-digit growth, he pointed out.

“A growing percentage of the world’s large merchant ships and bulk carrier ships fly an Asian flag and this expansion in trade and economic growth dictates the need to ensure the safety and security of the sea lanes,” he said. Naval cooperation was also necessary for disaster mitigation as the Indian Ocean region accounted for 70 per cent of the world’s natural disasters.

“We look upon our navies to protect our citizens from natural disasters. We must have robust capabilities to deal with environmental emergencies.”

The Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, discounted notions of the initiative being aimed at fashioning a military alliance and said the aim was to bring interoperability among the region’s navies to tackle terrorism, piracy and natural disasters.

While supporting greater cooperation among the navies of the Indian Ocean littoral states, Defence Minister A.K. Antony cautioned against “seeking extra-regional solutions.” Regionally sensitive solutions needed to be found for problems faced by the states of the region, he said.

Consensus approach

“The concept of maritime security needs to be viewed in the above background. It should ensure freedom from threats arising either in or from the sea,” he said and wanted the participants to develop a comprehensive cooperative framework of maritime security. Such an effort would require a consensus-based approach, with a focus on pooling of resources and capacity building, information exchanges and development of interoperability in doctrinal and operational terms, he said.

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