June 19, 2011

Whither Maritime Security and Safety?

http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers46/paper4553.html

By R.S.Vasan

The maritime incidents of the recent months in our neighbourhood do raise serious questions about the state of maritime safety and security in Indian and adjacent waters. Look at these incidents that have grabbed headlines in recent months.

Firstly the MV Wisdom incident caused enormous scare as it cut loose from the towing vessel on Jun 12, 2011, due to heavy weather and drifted dangerously close to the Worli Bandra Sea link before being grounded close to Juhu beach.

The fact that it did not collide with the facility is both due to the depth of water and also the tide which pushed the 9000 ton vessel to shallow waters within a stone’s throw from the vital facility that stands out as a wonderful land mark built at enormous cost and effort. The vessel that was being towed to Alang, a ship breaking yard in Gujarat, sailed close to the coast in our territorial waters. It is not clear why this was allowed despite the fury of the monsoon where every year there are some marine accidents or the other close to our coast. The towing could have been undertaken in better weather post monsoon conditions. Efforts are being made to use the high tides to free the ship and move it in to deeper waters for towing to its final destination. The incident ought to make the concerned agencies in DG Shipping, Navy, and Coast Guard to sit up and take notice. The authorities also need to worry about similar attempts by terrorists to attack our vital infrastructure off shore and along the coast.

Mumbai witnessed the collision of MV Khaleja with MV Chitra during last monsoon on 10th August 2010 resulting in environmental damage to the mangroves and the eco sensitive beaches close to Mumbai.

The busy Mumbai port was closed due to fear of underwater obstructions created by the containers that had fallen overboard. The approach channels were cleared of obstructions by the Navy using its survey vessels. Surprisingly no heads have rolled in the Port Trust after this episode, though it was established that there were many failures in the VTMS and the control of vessels plying in the port controlled areas. The role of DG Shipping has also been criticized as apparently many recommended measures have still not been instituted. On August 31, 2010, an Offshore Supply Vessel – Beas Dolphin – collided with a barge ‘Nand Hajara’ at Indira docks off Mumbai coast yet again highlighting the need to review the existing training standards and procedures for movement of vessels

On 30th January another merchant vessel MV Nordiclake collided with INS Vindhyagiri which was returning after a family day and it sank subsequently though luckily there was no loss of lives.

Again the aspect of control of movement of vessels in close proximity of each other, issues of piloting, crew efficiency and the lack of control by the port and the Navy came into serious questions. It also raised valid questions about the vulnerability of a warship that is built to float, move and fight even after serious damage to its hull. There are questions here about the preparedness of the crew of a war vessel to prevent such incidents, minimize the damage and absorb during peace let alone battle damage. On March 23, 2010 Coast Guard vessel Vivek sank alongside while under refit on being rammed by another merchant vessel Global Purity at Indira Dockyard throwing up questions on the safeguards during refit and also the aspect of supervision and control.

While the above cases are those which happened within our coast, the case of MV Suez has both national and international ramifications. The vessel was hijacked on 02 August 2010 and remained under pirate control for over ten months. The vessel with a Pakistani master comprised six Indian crew, four Pakistanis, eleven Egyptians and one Sri Lankan.

The family members of the crew have criticized the Government and also the Indian Navy for lack of action despite appeals at many levels including in the media. The wife of one of the crew members Sampa even apparently sent a threatening SMS. She was let off after intense questioning on realizing that the action was due to frustration in not seeing any action by the strongest Regional Navy and the biggest nation in the region.

The release came about not because of Indian initiatives but due to a human right activist in Pakistan, Ansar Burney who mobilized support and negotiated with the pirates to bring down the ransom money to 2.1 mn USD. In addition he raised money to pay the pirates after which the ship and the crew were released. Unfortunately, the ship reported that they were again attacked by pirates on June, 15 and after being released on Jun, 13 complained about lack of action by the Indian Navy which had deployed INS Godavari to escort ships in the area. The crew obviously is praising the efforts of Ansar Burney and the Pakistanis for their efforts to alleviate their suffering at the hands of the pirates while the Indian Navy and the GoI appeared to look on passively. Even the role of the Indian diplomats in Cairo has been criticized as one that lacked assertive proactive action.

One of the crew members Ravinder Arya who spoke to Headlines Today, accused the Indian Navy of not responding after assuring them that when required, assistance would be on hand within five minutes. The crew by determined efforts was able to thwart the attempts by the pirates to board the ship. PNS Babur which was in the area rushed to the scene and was escorting MV Suez which had a Pakistani Captain and six Indian crew members out of the compliment of 22.

It is not known why INS Godavari was deputed to escort MV Suez when the job was already being done by a Pakistani war vessel. No thought was given in that it would inevitably compete and a possibility of a clash with the Pakistani vessel.

It can be inferred that sending the Indian warship was an afterthought and an act of one-upmanship. It appeared that the GoI and the Indian Navy developed a desire to demonstrate its resolve after all the action (after not doing much while it was most needed) was over. Having not responded to the appeals by the family members for over last ten months, this sudden Indian interest in the vessel which was already released by Pakistani effort and was being escorted to a safe port shows India and its decision making machinery in poor light.

The GoI has maintained that it was due to its behind the scene efforts which enabled the release,though there is no explanation on how a human rights activist from Pakistan was in fact negotiating and mobilising the funds. To cap it all, apparently, INS Godavari brushed against the escorting Pakistani vessel resulting in a protest being lodged by Pakistan against India (The Indian Navy has apparently denied this allegation) as violative of past agreements. Obviously there is a diplomatic row brewing over the issue of escorting MV Suez.The Pak Govt has accused the Indian ship of interfering with humanitarian assistance being provided by a Pakistani war vessel.

The Pakistani master of MV Suez chose to ignore the calls made by the IN Ship to establish contact on all channels. Unfortunately, as per reports received on 18th Jun, the vessel was stranded at some distance from Salalah due to not having adequate fuel to finish the journey and efforts were being made to tow the vessel into the harbour to enable the crew to return to their countries. While the Navy is sure to investigate the matter, there is a serious need for introspection by the Indian Navy and the Government of India in its methods. Also, there is a need to deploy Coast Guard vessels in such operations as the Coast Guard and the MSA of Pakistan already have a working relation and have established hot lines between Delhi and Islamabad. The Coast Guard vessels unlike naval vessels have a humanitarian face to their roles and tasks in peace and the action by the Coast Guard would not be viewed with suspicion.

It appeared that the GoI and the Indian Navy developed a desire to demonstrate its resolve after all the action (after not doing much while it was most needed) was over. Having not responded adequately to the appeals by the family members for over last ten months, this sudden Indian interest in the vessel which was already released by Pakistani effort and was being escorted to a safe port shows India and its decision making machinery in poor light.

To cap it all, apparently, INS Godavari brushed against the escorting Pakistani vessel resulting in a protest being lodged by Pakistan against India (The Indian Navy has apparently denied this allegation) as violative of past agreements. The Pak Govt has accused the Indian ship of interfering with humanitarian assistance being provided by a Pakistani war vessel. The Pakistani master of MV Suez chose to ignore the calls made by the IN Ship to establish contact on all channels. Unfortunately, as per reports received on 18th Jun, the vessel was stranded at some distance from Salalah due to not having adequate fuel to finish the journey and efforts were being made to tow the vessel into the harbour to enable the crew to return to their countries. While the Navy is sure to investigate the matter, there is a serious need for introspection by the Indian Navy and the Government of India in its methods. Also, there is a need to deploy Coast Guard vessels in such operations as the Coast Guard and the MSA of Pakistan already have a working relation and have established hot lines between Delhi and Islamabad. The Coast Guard vessels unlike naval vessels have a humanitarian face to their roles and tasks in peace and the action by the Coast Guard would not be viewed with suspicion.

The larger issue of maritime piracy (which forms a part of separate discussion) which has spread outwards from the Somalian coast requires dedicated, concerted effort to see that the innocent seafarers are not held hostage to lack of initiatives from the Governments around the world. Regrettably, even today there are multiple groupings such as the EUNAVFOR (European Union Naval Force) NATO forces, Combined Task Force 151 under different flags and units from different navies operating independently who are patrolling the piracy ridden areas with minimal coordination.

This explains why MV Suez was attacked though it was within the International Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC). In addition to adopting many recommended measures which have been put up for consideration on 11th April 2011 by an expert Mr Jack Lang, nominated by the UN Secretary General Ban ki Moon,there is an immediate need to review the way that forces operate in the common areas for the sole purpose of combating piracy. A maritime force on the same lines of UN Peace Keeping force would bring the operating units under the same umbrella and perhaps would be able to do a better job in preventing such attacks.

In conclusion, not everything is going well in the maritime domain and there are causes of serious concerns about the state of affairs. The decision making processes and the responses from India a big regional power with the strongest naval presence have come in for criticism and severe indictment. The GoI has to stop being a silent spectator and has to actively intervene and revamp the decision making machinery /processes and the civil military interface which has not delivered in critical situations.

1 comment:

armorbear said...

Alert today. Alive tomorrow.
Armorbear