Safe and Secure Oceans should be the Top Priority : Antony
The quest for security in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) led the Indian Defence Minister Shri AK Antony to reiterate the importance of cooperation and collaboration among the maritime agencies in the South Asian Region for ensuring the security and safety of Oceans. Inaugurating the 8th Heads of Asian Coast Guards Meeting (HACGAM) in Delhi, Mr Antony stressed the commitment of the Government of India towards strengthening the Indian Coast Guard in terms of building its capacity for sustained presence in the Indian Maritime Zones. He said that the importance of swift policy decisions by the governments, in keeping with the maritime environment, top priority must be accorded to the creation of safe and secure oceans.
The importance of maritime security has come into the limelight given the increase in piracy in the IOR in the past half a decade or so thereby leading a global counter piracy effort off the coasts of Somalia. Governments and law enforcement agencies must implement national and international laws that can act as a deterrent for unscrupulous elements, he added. Shri Antony assured the delegation that the Indian Government remains committed towards the security of the Indian Ocean Region by implementing international regulations, enacting legislations for maritime safety and security, cooperative mechanism with nations and capacity-building of law-enforcement agencies.
By declaring the Oceans a part of the global commons a cooperative security paradigm can be evolved which was one of the talking points of the Indian Defence Minister. Mr Antony highlighted, “I would like to reiterate that oceans are and can become a domain for goodwill interactions between nations, mutual cooperation to provide humanitarian aid, preserving maritime environment and enforcement of law at sea. Nations must cooperate with each other to ensure everlasting peace and security. The Coast Guards have the potential to elevate the maritime status of a nation among littoral states, he added. “We are also planning to augment our capacity in the fields of coastal security, anti-piracy, anti-terrorism operations and oil spill response capabilities. We are also willing to share our experience and expertise in evolving a coastal security mechanism to other nations”, he said.
The Heads of Asian Coast Guard Agencies meeting is being held for the first time in the South Asian region. The representatives of 18 countries including Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Peoples Republic of China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Phillipines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam and Hongkong are participating in the conference. HACGAM is an apex level forum facilitating congregation of all the major Coast Guard Agencies of Asian region. This initiative was developed initially in 2004 to discuss cooperation among the member organizations to combat piracy in the region. However, the scope of discussions has been expanded to include law enforcement, maritime security, disaster prevention and relief and capacity building.
The HACGAM is conducted every year and seven such meetings have been conducted till date. In earlier years, it has been held in places like Tokyo, Putrajaya (Malaysia), Singapore, Manila, Bali, Shanghai and Hanoi. The attendance of the Chinese and Pakistan Coast Guard is significant as this forum seems to have greater acceptability.
India is also reviewing policy for posting armed guards on ships carrying the Indian flag given the large number of Indian citizen in the custody of pirates over a period. Present maritime laws do not permit Indian flag ships to have armed guards on board. Foreign flag shiips are also required to deposit their arms at the ports when the reach Indian waters.