Talk by India's first NMSC, Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar, PVSM, AVSM, VSM, ADC (Retd), on Maritime Security of India
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On 18 April, the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) organised a talk on “Maritime Security of India” by Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar, NMSC. Vice Admiral Tarun Sobti, Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff (DCNS) was also present. The Talk was also attended by Sh. Jayant Mishra, Forner Director General, Department of Revenue Intelligence. In addition, Indian Coast Guard was represented by DIG Ajay Chaturvedi. Cmde Manish Sinha, Captain KS Vikramaditya, Comdt RK Shrivastava along with three other scholars participated from the National Maritime Foundation. The VIF participants included Lt. General R. K. Sawhney, Vice Admiral Satish Soni, Captain Anurag Bisen, Col. Sunil Yadav, Dr Saroj Bishoyi, Ms. Prerna Gandhi and Sh. Anurag Sharma.

The Director VIF, Dr. Arvind Gupta, delivered the opening remarks by reflecting on historical recommendations, notably from the Kargil Review Committee and the wake-up call prompted by the 26/11 attack. He emphasised the fragmented nature of maritime security and flagged various pressing issues such as capacity building, strengthening maritime infrastructure, and gaps in maritime laws and regulation, particularly in international waters, to combat issues like piracy drug trafficking.

Commencing his address, Vice Admiral Ashok Kumar provided insights into India's maritime significance and the establishment of NMSC to address evolving challenges. He highlighted the import of India's coastline, exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and the predominance of maritime trade.

The establishment of NMSC is a culmination of recommendations dating back to the GoM Report of 2001, emphasizing the need for an apex-level coordinator in maritime security. The commission's role as the fifth vertical in the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) underscores its significance in coordinating efforts across multiple agencies and ensuring a cohesive approach to maritime security. One of the primary objectives of NMSC is to address the numerous issues in the maritime domain, including non-traditional security threats, fragmented maritime security, capacity building of states, including their marine police, maritime laws, infrastructure development, fishing boat regulation and registration, and international cooperation. These challenges necessitate a holistic approach involving coordination among various agencies, capacity building, and adherence to international maritime laws, such as UNCLOS.

The NMSC informed that Maritime security encompasses internal, territorial and international waters, presenting distinct challenges in each domain. While guarding ports and coastal areas requires collaboration between agencies like the Navy and Coast Guard, ensuring security in international waters demands international cooperation and the adoption of multilateral initiatives. Indian Navy’s initiatives such as mission-based deployments and the Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) demonstrate India's commitment to addressing non-traditional security threats in the maritime domain. However, numerous challenges persist, including extra-regional presence, illegal fishing activities, debt-trap diplomacy, and extra regional countries’ maritime research and data collection. Addressing these challenges requires a comprehensive strategy encompassing capacity building, technology integration, and diplomatic engagement.

During the discussions, questions were raised regarding the coordination between the Coast Guard and Navy, protection of seabed cables, India’s participation in maritime security initiatives, and policy revisions. Admiral Kumar highlighted the lack of a comprehensive definition of coastal security and defence until recent years. The delineation of roles, with coastal security under the purview of the Coast Guard and coastal defence aligned with the Navy, underscores the importance of clarity in operational frameworks. Addressing concerns about safeguarding undersea cables, he emphasized the preventive measures being taken by operators, despite the majority being privately owned. While rerouting capabilities mitigate risks, the importance of protective measures for vulnerable cable landing points was underscored, signaling a proactive approach to mitigate potential threats.

Contemplating India's participation in the trilateral/multilateral exercises in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) such as the Maritime Security Belt, deliberations underscored the deliberate decision-making process and the cautious approach necessitated by geopolitical complexities. Drug trafficking and maritime security necessitates focussed operations and multilateral cooperation to effectively combat transnational threats.

In conclusion, NMSC averred that it is imperative for force structures and training protocols to adapt, encompassing both traditional combat preparedness and strategies to address non-conventional adversaries effectively. Moreover, a crucial aspect that demands attention is the realm of maritime laws and boundaries. There exists a notable deficit in understanding maritime laws, necessitating comprehensive training and alignment with domestic legislations to effectively navigate this domain. Recognizing that maritime security is not the sole responsibility of any single entity, it becomes apparent that tackling this multi-faceted challenge requires a concerted effort from various agencies.

Event Date 
April 18, 2024

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