The vast and mystifying oceanic expanse, which covers about one third of the planet earth’s surface and thousands of kilometers of coastline, raises innumerable safety concerns from the point of national security, global warming and consequent rising of sea level, safe fishing, piracy, terrorism and marine pollution.
The oceanic expanse is also home to about 50,000 large ships, which carry 80% of the world’s traded cargo. Moreover, the sea has always been an anarchic domain. Unlike land and air, it is less policed, even today.
Perhaps the United States is one of the few countries capable of deploying substantial forces to patrol the sea. countries such as china, India, Japan, and south Korea, whose entire oil supply from the Middle East has to traverse pirate-infested waters, yet their contributions to maritime security leave much to be desired. Meanwhile, combating terrorism is emerging as a top priority, but the war on terrorists at sea will require a long-term concerted efforts
In this context it may be noted that the Indian navy has placed warships on high alert for terrorist attacks on the high seas following the near successful hijacking of a Pakistani missile frigate recently. According to media reports, the alert also come in the wake of new revelations that Al-Qaeda’s Indian subcontinent wing had attempted to hijack the Pakistani missile frigate to attack Indian warships. Navy has also been alerted to guard against strikes involving boats rigged with explosives.
However, guarding against attacks in the Indian Ocean is difficult because of the large number of small ships operating in the waters, few of which are equipped with automatic identification systems, or AIS. It’s often impossible to tell whether a fishing boat is part of the Indian fleet or not and there is always the risk of opening fire on fishermen who mean no harm.
The Director-general of shipping had, in 2009, issued two circulars mandating the installation of AIS systems on all fishing ships longer than 20 metres. Fishing boat owners, however, have been resisting implementation of the AIS transponder proposals, saying their cost ought to be subsidised by the government.
To curb terrorism at sea, the measures cannot be similar to those used for fighting piracy as the very nature of terrorism is a wholly different ordeal especially in the case of fighting terrorists on suicide.
Whereas pirates can be deterred by ensuring that they cannot escape following an attack, maritime terrorists must be deterred before an attack even takes place. Therefore, the terrorists need to be hit at their very nerve centre that is not at sea but on land. Other safety issues related to oceanic waters include activities such as destructive fishing, intentional and accidental pollution, unregulated military exercises, etc. that can endanger marine environment.
It is against this backdrop, safety Messenger has chosen Maritime safety as the focal theme of the current issue. We have taken our best efforts to include articles and features by experts on the various dimensions of this crucial topic.
Looking forward to your comments and feedbacks.