A delayed project to install transponders on small fishing vessels, under 20 metres in length, as part of coastal security measures instituted post 26/11 Mumbai attacks is now making progress, with a project underway in Tamil Nadu.
In a related development, the third edition of the ‘pan-India’ coastal defence Exercise ‘Sea Vigil-22’ is scheduled to be held on November 15 and 16, the Navy said on Monday. The Exercise was conceptualised in 2018 to validate various measures that have been instituted towards enhancing maritime security since ‘26/11’.
The process of installing transponders on sub-20 metre boats commenced with a pilot project in Tamil Nadu for 5,000 vessels is underway, said Vice Admiral Ashok Kumar (Retd.), National Maritime Security Coordinator. To allay the concerns of fishermen, the transponders with positioning navigation systems have been modified into a two-way communication system, he stated.
There are close to three lakh registered fishing vessels of which around 2.5 lakh are under 20 metres, Vice Admiral Kumar added.
An Automatic Identification System (AIS) was made compulsory for all vessels above 20 metres after the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. The decision was taken by the National Committee on Strengthening Maritime and Coastal Security, headed by the Cabinet Secretary, set up to look into issues related to coastal security. However, for vessels under 20 metres, the process has been delayed for several reasons.
Trials were conducted in association with the Indian Space Research Organisation on one of their communication satellites last year along the coasts of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, officials said. The Vehicle Management System (VMS) has advanced features and enables two-way communication. The technology has been handed over to four companies for commercial production.
Verification and monitoring of a large number of fishing vessels in India has been greatly eased by the creation of the online ReALCraft (Registration and Licensing of Fishing Craft), the Indian Navy said in written response to questions from The Hindu. This information is available to the Indian Navy and Coast Guard. “Further, issuance of biometric identity cards to the majority of fishermen and composite card readers to the maritime security agencies has been done to enable biometric verification of the identity of fishing vessel crews at sea,” it added.
In this direction, as part of overall efforts for Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) on the high seas, the Quad grouping, comprising of India, Australia, Japan and U.S., at the Tokyo summit early this year announced an ambitious Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) initiative to track “dark shipping” and build a “faster, wider, and more accurate maritime picture of near-real-time activities in partners’ waters” integrating three critical regions in the Indo-Pacific - the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia, and Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
The exercise will see activation of the coastal security apparatus across India and is being conducted by the Indian Navy in coordination with Coast Guard and other Ministries entrusted with the task of maritime activities. “The exercise will be undertaken along the entire 7,516 km coastline and Exclusive Economic Zone of India and will involve all the Coastal States and Union territories along with other maritime stakeholders, including the fishing and coastal communities,” the Navy said.
The scale and conceptual expanse of the exercise is unprecedented in terms of the geographical extent, the number of stakeholders involved, the number of units participating and in terms of the objectives to be met, it stated. The exercise is a build up towards the major Theatre Level Readiness Operational Exercise (TROPEX), which the Indian Navy conducts every two years.
Sea Vigil and TROPEX together will cover the entire spectrum maritime security challenges, the Navy said. “Exercise Sea Vigil-22 will provide realistic assessment of our strengths and weaknesses and thus will help in further strengthening maritime and national security,” the Navy added.