Maritime Security in the IOR : Counterpiracy and the India-Australia Maritime Cooperation
Anushka Saxena

The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is significant for a number of reasons. To begin with, it serves as the global hotspot for naval trade and for maintaining sea-based lines of communications. It houses chokepoints like the Bab-el Mandeb, Strait of Hormuz, Suez Canal, and the Malacca and Sunda Straits, accounting for over 40% of the global oil and gas trade. [1] On the other hand, it is home to many High-Risk Areas (HRAs) for piracy, making the regional security situation dynamic and prone to attacks from pirates. In this context, regional powers, including the United States, India and Australia, have time and time again emphasized the importance of cooperation towards counterpiracy. It forms a major part of discussions surrounding maritime security in the IOR, and consequently, the India-Australia axis has emerged crucial for the strengthening of counterpiracy operations in the region.

Where does Piracy in the IOR come from?

For the longest time, Somali piracy, which witnessed its peak in the period from 2009-2012, contributed the most to pirate attacks and hijackings in the Gulf of Aden and the IOR. About 175 of the total 445 incidents of piracy reported in the year 2010 alone were attributable to Somali miscreants, with a reported success rate of about 30%, as per statistics gathered by the European Union Naval Force for Somalia. [2] These figures are collectively indicative of incidents of pirate attacks as well as successful onboarding of a ship by pirates.

In the period of turmoil during the Somali Civil war, which concluded in 2000, ships from various countries exploited the situation in Somalia by unscrupulously fishing for seafood and mineral resources available in the Somali territorial waters in specific, and in the western IOR in general. Despite the formation of a Transitional Authority in Somalia in 2005, there existed a bleak law and order situation in the country. Hence, in response to the injudicious foreign fishing activities taking place off of the coast of Somalia, there emerged a number of armed militias that sought to avenge the exploitation of their own sources of livelihood. Over time, these militias found the act of piracy lucrative and as a result, acts of maritime piracy off of the coast of Somalia rose in number. They became especially prevalent after 2005, when the country began facing sustained conflict between the Somalia Transitional Federal Government and the re-empowered United Islamic Courts, an Islamic fundamentalist body of which the terrorist group Al-Shabaab was a part.[3]

Although the number of cases of Somali piracy witnessed a great decline once increased patrol operations by countries like China, Djibouti, India, the US and European Union were deployed in the region, the threat of piracy never really diminished. The successes of two such operations, however, stand out - the EU Naval Force Somalia’s ‘Operation Atalanta’, which was launched in the Gulf of Aden in 2008 in collaboration with the UN and its World Food Programme, and the Combined Task Force 151, which was one of the three task forces operated by the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF). [4] Because of joint patrols, as well as increased Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance efforts, there hasn’t been a single successful piracy attack in the Gulf of Aden since 2019. [5]

Significance of the IOR for India and Australia

Indisputably, the Indian Ocean Region serves major geostrategic interests for India. To begin with, the IOR is home to the Strait of Hormuz, which connects India to the source for 80% of its oil and natural gas imports - the Middle East. [6] India, Iran, and other West Asian nations have constantly engaged in the maintenance of safety and security of the Strait as a foreign policy priority. The Indian Navy and Coast Guard actively operationalise their various fleets, squadrons, radar stations, and surveillance systems towards both securing Indian commercial interests, which include the judicious exploitation of Indian Ocean resources (such as manganese nodules and huge fishing stocks like tuna, and cuttlefish - which account for 14% of the global catch [7]), as well as fending off attacks against Indian naval forces serving on the seas. So far, the Indian Navy has been a noteworthy contributor to the international patrols against piracy in the Gulf of Aden (more specifically, in the 910-kilometre-long Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor), having successfully prevented about 40 pirate attacks in the IOR. [8] India sees the IOR as its “sphere of influence,” and vows to maintain peace and stability in the region. As a result, its image as a protector and benefactor in the eyes of littoral states becomes a matter of national interest. Of course, Australia shares a similar policy stance on its own position in the IOR in specific and the Indo-Pacific in general.

Through various bilateral and multilateral initiatives, both India and Australia have expressed their commitment to the region. For example, in September 2020, India joined the Djibouti Code of Conduct (The Code of Conduct concerning the Repression of Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden), an international grouping against piracy. While its membership comprises littoral countries in the western part of the IOR, India has joined as an observer to the DCOC, along with the US, the UK, Japan and Norway.[9] Undoubtedly, the addition of Australia to the list of observers would prove fruitful in expanding the scope of DCOC’s counterpiracy agenda to the easternmost end of the IOR as well. Some of the most prized multilateral initiatives on maritime cooperation for both India and Australia include the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) and the Indian Ocean Region Association (IORA). While the IONS, founded by the Indian Navy in 2008, serves to create dialogue around issues of maritime security among its IOR counterparts, the IORA, conceived jointly by India and South Africa in 1997, acts as an intergovernmental forum (headed by the Council of Ministers) for deliberations on opportunities and challenges facing the IOR as a whole.

The most prominently placed initiative, however, is the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a grouping of four Indo-Pacific powers (India, Australia, the US and Japan) that form the “Asian Arc of Democracy” for their own benefit. The renewed focus of the Quad has not just been to countervail increasing Chinese influence in the region but also to eliminate transnational maritime threats such as terrorism and piracy from the high-seas. On the bilateral level, India and Australia engage in AUSINDEX, a naval exercise to flex their military might in the maritime domain, all the while endeavouring to enhance cooperation and interoperability for the navies and coast guards of the two countries. The 4th iteration of the AUSINDEX, which concluded in September 2021, witnessed joint replenishment, response and other exercises between warships, patrol aircrafts, submarines, tactical fighter jets and helicopters from both countries. MALABAR 2021, the joint naval exercise between the four Quad countries conducted in August this year, also witnessed navy-to-navy warfare training, gunnery events and cross-deck flight operations between maritime forces of the four countries. [10]

India-Australia Counterpiracy Partnership

Having established the source of piracy and the significance of the India-Australia bilateral relations in the context of maintaining peace and security in the IOR, we must look at the opportunities available for the two countries to cooperate over, especially in the field of counterpiracy. As part of the joint international counterpiracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden, both India and Australia have accumulated consequential know-how on dealing with piracy and naval hijackings, increasingly since 2008. Australia’s HMAS Newcastle and HMAS Melbourne served the CMF Combined Task Force-151 on counterpiracy for many years, [11] earning a laudable reputation for the Royal Australian Navy in countering piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the IOR. Similarly, Indian deployments in both an individual capacity, and in coordination and cooperation with CTF-151 as well as patrol frigates from EUNAVFOR, Japan and China, contributed massively to the decline in incidents of piracy in the region. The Maritime Security Transit Corridor (of which the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor is a part) [12] was, and remains a crucial area of interest for Indian naval patrols, as it has been designed for the targeted protection of merchant ships and ultimately, commerce in the region.

India and Australia have taken many steps in the ready expansion of their relations, which have in turn opened doors for counterpiracy cooperation, and the development of closer ties within the larger domain of maritime security. To begin with, the two countries signed a ‘Framework for Security Cooperation’ in 2014, and by 2017, elevated the nature of their bilateral relations to that of a ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’. Then in 2020, the leaders of the two countries concluded a ‘Framework Agreement on Maritime Cooperation’, as well as a Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) and a Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) Agreement. The MLSA, which was long-pending, is a step in the right direction towards increasing interoperability of the maritime forces of the two countries in the fields of defence, fuel and technology exchanges, and food and water provisions, especially when Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) is needed on either side, or anywhere in the region.[13] India’s National Maritime Domain Awareness (NMDA) Project has established an integrated intelligence grid comprising coastal vessels, shipping traffic management systems, surveillance radars and biometric identity databases to detect and deal with threats being faced by its naval arm in Indo-Pacific waters. Securing Australia’s partnership in carrying out joint surveillance and patrolling in the region, and in the interchange of research and technological know-how on enhancing MDA, would produce an advanced security mechanism for the region.[14] The established routes of partnership also enable personnel exchange for interoperable training between the two countries, which has led to exchange of technological know-how and “best practices.” While two officers from Australia are trained in India’s Defence Services Staff College and National Defence College annually, India sends two of its officers to study with Australia’s Command and Staff College, and the Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies.[15]

In this regard, there remain available many avenues of cooperation over counterpiracy, and the expansion of AUSINDEX to include wargames and piracy simulations would also shape the bilateral training exercises for the best, while preparing the navies of the two countries for real time events of piracy. There is also scope for partnership in the use of unmanned systems and drone technologies to ensure protection of maritime borders. Under the Framework Arrangement on Cyber and Cyber‑ Enabled Critical Technologies Cooperation, signed in 2020, [16] India and Australia have committed to expand joint research on critical technologies, including Artificial intelligence, space tech and even unmanned systems. Moreover, the navies of both countries have relevant experience in the use and operationalisation of drones, albeit not without challenges. For example, the Indian Navy inducted Heron, Searcher Mk and Sea Guardian drones from Israel and the United States into its security systems, [17] and has deployed them to support squadrons around coastal regions. In the two editions of the ‘Operation Sea Vigil’ carried out jointly by the Navy and the Indian Coast Guard, UAVs and UMSs have been used alongside warships and patrol boats to test India’s sea preparedness. [18] Similarly, the Australian Navy deploys UAVs like the Austrian S-110 Camcopter and the American Scan Eagle for purposes including long-enduring ISR, target designation, exchange of payloads, and ocean mapping, among many others.[19] It also uses the Double Eagle MK-II as an Unmanned Underwater Vehicle for mine detection and disposal, [20] while further ideating on the use of manoeuvrable UUVs and ROVs (Remote-Operated Vehicles) for capturing underwater images and feeding live imagery to ship pilots (as opposed to deploying an individual underwater dive team for the same purpose),[21] expanding their visual horizon. In this context, the sophistication achieved by the maritime forces of both countries in the use of unmanned systems can be jointly utilised to carry out effective surveillance and visualisation on the high-seas, potentially creating a warning system for naval officers to carry out counterpiracy operations in the nick of time. The bilateral MLSA can also include exchanges in the development and use of UAVs and UUVs to enhance interoperability.

Conclusion

Despite the decreased prevalence of piracy in the Indian Ocean Region, it remains a recognisable security issue in the maritime domain. The emergence of a new piracy hotspot off of the coast of Nigeria, towards the west of the African continent, has raised new alerts for the practice of counterpiracy. In this light, the India-Australia axis can be exemplary in the global fight against piracy. Seeing as the bilateral cooperation over maintenance of maritime security in the IOR has matured significantly over the years, it is now time for the two countries to place a renewed foreign policy emphasis on the regional maritime dynamics. This also means that there needs to exist a balance between the focus given to conventional threats (most prominently, Chinese expansionism and aggressiveness in the Indo-Pacific), as well as non-conventional threats (piracy and maritime terrorism).

Unlike Australia, which clearly interprets the Act of Maritime Piracy as a crime against the Commonwealth State by means of Section 51 of its 1914 Crimes Act, [22] India has no such regulations or laws punishing maritime piracy. India did introduce the Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill in the Lok Sabha once in 2012 and then again in 2019, [23] the Bill has yet to become a law. It would be one of the most comprehensive counterpiracy legislations in the country and the region, but in a February 2021 report by the External Affairs Standing Committee of Parliament, led by P.P Chaudhury, the panel accredited the “lackadaisical attitude” of the government towards countering maritime piracy that has stalled the Bill from becoming a law. [24] The Parliamentary committee recommended, in that regard, the immediate promulgation of a legislation to prosecute pirates in territorial waters would make the right basis for the legal impetus against piracy. In this context, Australia’s legal proficiency can prove to be helpful to India, in addition to its technical know-how. The high-seas remain anarchic and dangerous, and expanded naval cooperation, both through bilateral and multilateral ISR and security commitments, combined with the translation of policy into action, can help the two countries lead the way in counterpiracy.

Reference:

[1]Dhruva Jaishankar, “Indian Ocean region: A pivot for India’s growth,” Brookings India (now CSEP), 12 September 2016, https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/indian-ocean-region-a-pivot-for-indias-growth/.
[2]Jean Edmond Randrianantenaina, “Maritime Piracy And Armed Robbery Against Ships: Exploring The Legal And The Operational Solutions: The Case Of Madagascar,” Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea Office of Legal Affairs, United Nations, 2013, Https://Www.Un.Org/Depts/Los/Nippon/Unnff_programme_home/Fellows_pages/Fellows_papers/Randrianantenaina_1213_madagascar.Pdf.
[3]The Organization for World Peace, “Somali Civil War,” The Organization for World Peace, https://theowp.org/crisis_index/somali-civil-war/.
[4]Combined Maritime Forces,” CTF-151: Counter-Piracy,” Combined Maritime Forces, https://combinedmaritimeforces.com/ctf-151-counter-piracy/
[5]HDI, “Maritime piracy rises again in 2020,” HDI Global, 4 March 2021, https://www.hdi.global/infocenter/insights/2021/piracy/.
[6]TimesofIndia.com, “How India plans to reduce its dependence on Middle East oil,” The Times of India, 24 March 2021, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/how-india-plans-to-reduce-its-dependence-on-middle-east-oil/articleshow/81668143.cms.
[7]David Michel and Russell Sticklor, “Plenty of Fish in the Sea? Food Security in the Indian Ocean,” The Diplomat, 24 August 2012, https://thediplomat.com/2012/08/plenty-of-fish-in-the-sea-food-security-in-the-indian-ocean/.
[8]S.S Parmar, “Ask an Expert,” MP-IDSA, https://idsa.in/askanexpert/IndianGovernmenttocombatpiracyintheIndianOcean.
[9]Sangeeta Nair, “India joins Djibouti Code of Conduct as Observer,” Jagran Josh, 16 September 2020, https://www.jagranjosh.com/current-affairs/india-joins-djibouti-code-of-conduct-as-observer-1600264555-1.
[10]U.S Mission India, “Australia, India, Japan, and U.S. Kick-Off Exercise MALABAR 2021,” US Embassy & Consulates in India, 26 August 2021, https://in.usembassy.gov/australia-india-japan-and-u-s-kick-off-exercise-malabar-2021/
[11]Combined Maritime Forces, “Australia Continues Commitment to Counter Piracy Operations,” Combined Maritime Forces, 3 October 2013, Https://Combinedmaritimeforces.Com/2013/10/03/Australia-Continues-Commitment-To-Counter-Piracy-Operations/.
[12]Combined Maritime Forces, “Maritime Security Transit Corridor (MSTC),” Combined Maritime Forces, https://combinedmaritimeforces.com/maritime-security-transit-corridor-mstc/.
[13]Anushka Saxena, “India-Australia Partnership: Game-Changer for Regional Security,” Kalinga institute of Indo-Pacific Studies, 9 July 2020, http://www.kiips.in/research/india-australia-partnership-game-changer-for-regional-security/?fbclid=IwAR1g7dTWUD5_N66fXm53gTrhsfXjcICqEv_wKKdE5N0Yi2npZrhiXl2fqJ4.
[14]Ibid.
[15]Australian High Commission, “Australia- India relationship,” Australian High Commission, New Delhi, https://india.embassy.gov.au/ndli/relations.html.
[16]Minister for Foreign Affairs; Minister for Women: Senator the Hon Marise Payne, “Australia and India agree new partnership on cyber and critical technology,” Foreign Minister, Government of Australia, 4 June 2020, https://www.foreignminister.gov.au/minister/marise-payne/media-release/australia-and-india-agree-new-partnership-cyber-and-critical-technology.
[17]Raghav Bikhchandani, “Heron, Searcher, Sea Guardian, SWITCH — the many UAVs that make up India’s drone arsenal,” The Print, 6 August 2021, https://theprint.in/defence/heron-searcher-sea-guardian-switch-the-many-uavs-that-make-up-indias-drone-arsenal/709670/.
[18]Special Correspondent, “Sea Vigil exercise concludes,” The Hindu, 14 January 2021, https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/sea-vigil-exercise-concludes/article33571833.ece.
[19]Royal Australian Navy, “Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV),” Navy, Government of Australia, https://www.navy.gov.au/taxonomy/unmanned-type/unmanned-aerial-vehicle-uav.
[20]Royal Australian Navy, “Double Eagle Mk. II,” Navy, Government of Australia, https://www.navy.gov.au/unmanned-systems/double-eagle-mk-ii.
[21]LCDR Simon O’Hehir, “Tac Talks: Mini-Remotely Operated Vehicle as an alternative to a dive team,” Navy, Government of Australia, 2021, https://www.navy.gov.au/media-room/publications/tac-talks-33.
[22]United Nations, “Part IV Piracy - Section 51,” United Nations, https://www.un.org/Depts/los/LEGISLATIONANDTREATIES/PDFFILES/AUS_1914_crimes_act.pdf.
[23]The Hindu Businessline Bureau, “Panel recommends death for pirates,” The Hindu, 11 February 2021, https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/national/panel-recommends-death-for-pirates/article33812950.ece.
[24] Ibid.

Endnotes :
  1. Dhruva Jaishankar, “Indian Ocean region: A pivot for India’s growth,” Brookings India (now CSEP), 12 September 2016, https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/indian-ocean-region-a-pivot-for-indias-growth/.
  2. The Organization for World Peace, “Somali Civil War,” The Organization for World Peace, https://theowp.org/crisis_index/somali-civil-war/.
  3. Combined Maritime Forces,” CTF-151: Counter-Piracy,” Combined Maritime Forces, https://combinedmaritimeforces.com/ctf-151-counter-piracy/
  4. HDI, “Maritime piracy rises again in 2020,” HDI Global, 4 March 2021, https://www.hdi.global/infocenter/insights/2021/piracy/.
  5. Combined Maritime Forces, “Australia Continues Commitment to Counter Piracy Operations,” Combined Maritime Forces, 3 October 2013, Https://Combinedmaritimeforces.Com/2013/10/03/Australia-Continues-Commitment-To-Counter-Piracy-Operations/.
  6. Australian High Commission, “Australia- India relationship,” Australian High Commission, New Delhi, https://india.embassy.gov.au/ndli/relations.html.
  7. Minister for Foreign Affairs; Minister for Women: Senator the Hon Marise Payne, “Australia and India agree new partnership on cyber and critical technology,” Foreign Minister, Government of Australia, 4 June 2020, https://www.foreignminister.gov.au/minister/marise-payne/media-release/australia-and-india-agree-new-partnership-cyber-and-critical-technology.
  8. Raghav Bikhchandani, “Heron, Searcher, Sea Guardian, SWITCH — the many UAVs that make up India’s drone arsenal,” The Print, 6 August 2021, https://theprint.in/defence/heron-searcher-sea-guardian-switch-the-many-uavs-that-make-up-indias-drone-arsenal/709670/.
  9. The Hindu Businessline Bureau, “Panel recommends death for pirates,” The Hindu, 11 February 2021, https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/national/panel-recommends-death-for-pirates/article33812950.ece.
  10. Royal Australian Navy, “Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV),” Navy, Government of Australia, https://www.navy.gov.au/taxonomy/unmanned-type/unmanned-aerial-vehicle-uav.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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