INDIA. Mumbai: A Tri-Nation Table Top Anti-Narcotics & Maritime Search and Rescue exercise (Exercise Shield) between Maldives National Defence Force, Sri Lanka Navy, and Indian Navy was conducted in virtual mode for the first time on Wednesday and Thursday with the Indian Navy as the lead agency.
The exercise was coordinated by Maritime Warfare Centre (MWC), Mumbai. It commenced with the opening address by Rear Admiral Gurcharan Singh, Chief Staff Officer (Operations), Western Naval Command, Mumbai. Rear Admiral Prasanna Mahawithana, Director General Operations, Sri Lanka Navy, and Colonel Ibrahim Hilmy, Area Commander- Maldives National Defence Force participated in the inaugural session.
The issues such as Anti-Narcotic Operations and Maritime Search and Rescue were deliberated by the participants who share a unique geographic location, sitting astride the major shipping routes of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The exercise was focused on enhancing maritime security cooperation and mutual understanding, exchange of best practices/procedures for countering common trans-national maritime crimes such as narcotics smuggling, evolving modalities for exchanging information/intelligence, and to assist each other in Maritime Search and Rescue.
All agencies enthusiastically participated in the exercise and shared their experiences and best practices. In his closing remarks, Commodore S Kesnur, Director, MWC, Mumbai thanked the participants for their whole-hearted support and cooperation.
The Maldives, Sri Lanka, and India share a maritime neighbourhood in the Indian Ocean (IO). Indian Maritime security strategy is clear that India’s maritime neighbourhood and its navy are important facets of its political and economic relationships with countries in that region. The Maldives and Sri Lanka are strategically located close to major sea lines of communication. Arguably possessing the region’s most developed navy and coast guard, India is perceived as the first responder and security provider in the Indian Ocean, but to be effective in that role, India needs to further engage with the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka as a South Asian country may be perceived to be within the Indian sphere of influence but Sri Lanka as an Indian Ocean island highlights Colombo’s strategic importance, expanding its geographical sphere of engagements. The main east-west maritime trade routes traverse the northern Indian Ocean and extend from the Red Sea/Suez Canal and the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca, passing close to the Maldives archipelago and Sri Lanka.
This is an important region with, annually, two-thirds of the world’s seaborne trade in oil, 50 percent of the world’s seaborne container traffic, one-third of the world’s seaborne bulk cargo, and the world’s highest tonnage in the seaborne transportation of goods, involving some 100,000 ships, transiting through the Indian Ocean and its adjacent waterways.
In the meanwhile “Operation Sankalp” (commitment/resolve/determination), aimed at protecting Indian Flag Merchant Vessels and ensuring their safe passage in the Gulf region and through the Strait of Hormuz, was held by Indian Navy recently.
The trigger for the deployment was a security incident involving an explosion onboard two oil tankers viz MV Front Altair and MV Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman on June 13, last year, in wake of increased tensions between Iran and the US. The attacks in the Gulf region highlighted the vulnerability of sea-borne trade transiting within constricted geographical locations.
India is dependent upon oil import to the extent of 85% of its demand. In the financial year 2019-2020, around 62 percent of India’s oil imports valued at approximately 66 Billion USD came from this area. For the same year, India’s exports and imports from the region stood at around 51 Billion USD and 108.2 Billion USD, respectively. These constitute 8.1 percent and 11.4 percent of India’s total exports and imports, respectively.
Despite the diversification of sources for the import of oil, Gulf countries are likely to continue as major suppliers of oil for India. Due to the prevailing security situation in the Persian Gulf, it is required to provide security to Indian Flagged Merchant Vessels transiting through the region by showing presence, escorting, or providing close support to vessels as required. Further, about 8.5 million out of 34 million people of Indian diaspora worldwide reside in Gulf countries.
Based on the imperatives above, the Indian Navy had commenced Maritime Security Operations, code-named “Op Sankalp”, in June 2019. Since then, an Indian Navy ship with an integral helicopter embarked has been continuously deployed in the North West Arabian Sea (off R’as al Hadd), Gulf of Oman, and the Persian Gulf, to show presence, instill confidence in the Indian maritime community and provide assistance to Indian Flagged Merchant Vessels.
23 warships have been deployed to date for this operations and on average 16 Indian Flagged Merchant Vessels are being provided safe passage each day in the region*. During these operations, Indian Navy Armed Security Teams (IN-AST) are being embarked onboard Indian Flagged Merchant Vessels transiting the area, based on their request.