India, Japan for strengthening Asian marine security environment

A Japanese Bell helicopter on a `mission' on the high seas, 25 kms. off the Chennai harbour, as part of Indo-Japanese Coast Guard joint exercises on Saturday. — Photo: K V Srinivasan

A Japanese Bell helicopter on a `mission' on the high seas, 25 kms. off the Chennai harbour, as part of Indo-Japanese Coast Guard joint exercises on Saturday. — Photo: K V Srinivasan  

ON BOARD THE CGS SARANG Nov. 9. Contours of an emerging Asian cooperation in fighting sea piracy and robberies firmed up here today, at the end of a four-day visit by Japanese Coast Guard officials and a multi-role ship, Yashima.

Both the countries, with the lead they have taken in fighting piracy, aim to strengthen Asian regional marine security environment with the involvement of other countries in the region. ``Almost all the countries in the region are victims of pirate attacks,'' said the Coast Guard Deputy Director General, P.Paleri. And, incidence of piracy was not going down in the region. This was of particular concern to Japan and other Asian `tiger economies.'

For instance, the International Piracy Reporting Centre (IPRC), Kuala Lumpur, recorded 10 instances of piracy or attempted robbery between October 29 and November 4, worldwide. All but one of these incidents was in Asia. Five of these incidents took place in Indonesia and one each in India, Vietnam, Peru, Bangladesh and Malacca Straits.

In the incident in India on October 30, pirates armed with long knives boarded a tanker anchored in the Hooghly river from the bows. While the crew was busy dealing with them, another group boarded from the stern and robbed the ship's stores, the IPRC said.

In 2001, there were 335 attacks on ships and 16 hijackings worldwide. Pirates killed 21 ship crew and passengers. All but one murder was in the Asian waters.

The Japan - India relationship assumed crucial significance since the two countries had the most effective Coast Guard fleet. ``If we draw an ellipse with Japan as one centre and India as another, we can pretty much cover the region,'' said Mr. Paleri. The top brass from both the countries were of the opinion that there was no substitute to effective policing. And, sharing resources, know-how and holding joint operations were vital to effective policing.

With shipping, trading and insurance companies, apart from maritime unions, getting increasingly alarmed over ship hijacking and piracy incidents, the Coast Guard top brass feels that it is now in a position to infuse confidence in the community.

In Chennai, the last leg of the cooperation involved a search and rescue mission at high seas today, some 25 nautical miles off the Chennai harbour. Determined officials and men braved torrential rains to launch the joint exercise, Kyoju.

``This is the normal weather for any search operation'' said R.S.Vasan, Commander, Coast Guard Region (East). However, he added that they did scale things down a bit due to the adverse weather.

The sense of urgency was also evident on the faces of the Japanese officers. This was articulated by the director, rescue division, Yoshitaka Mori: ``We had come fully prepared and with great expectations. We had hoped to carry out all the planned activities, including cross landing of helicopters and freeing a hijacked ship. But in this weather, we could only do a limited scale of exercises.''

This is the third consecutive year that Japan and India have been exercising together.

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