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Maritime Security: Interview with Commodore RS Vasan (Retd), Head, Strategy and Security Studies, Center for Asia Studies
Maritime Security: Interview with Commodore RS Vasan (Retd), Head, Strategy and Security Studies, Center for Asia Studies
Maritime Security: Interview with Commodore RS Vasan (Retd), Head, Strategy and Security Studies, Center for Asia Studies
Maritime Security: Interview with Commodore RS Vasan (Retd), Head, Strategy and Security Studies, Center for Asia Studies
Maritime Security: Interview with Commodore RS Vasan (Retd), Head, Strategy and Security Studies, Center for Asia Studies
Maritime Security: Interview with Commodore RS Vasan (Retd), Head, Strategy and Security Studies, Center for Asia Studies
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Maritime Security: Interview with Commodore RS Vasan (Retd), Head, Strategy and Security Studies, Center for Asia Studies

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The 21st century has been described as a maritime century as much as it is an Asian century with the rise of China and India and Commodore RS Vasan (Retd), Head, Strategy and Security Studies, Center …

The 21st century has been described as a maritime century as much as it is an Asian century with the rise of China and India and Commodore RS Vasan (Retd), Head, Strategy and Security Studies, Center for Asia Studies, recently joined us to discuss maritime security in the Indian Ocean and beyond.

The security landscape has evolved since we last spoke with Commodore RS Vasan in 2011 and topics on the agenda included piracy, the role of the Indian Navy, the impact of reduced defence budgets and the need for intergovernmental and interagency cooperation in securing the freedom of navigation.

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  • 1. www.informa.com.au/portmaritimesecurityTina Karas, Conference Manager – Port & Maritime Security 2013tina.karas@informa.com.auSince we last spoke in 2011, there seems to have been some victories in the battle againstpirates and maritime terrorism. The international maritime security community recentlycelebrated one year without successful pirate hijackings in the West Indian Ocean. What areyour impressions of the current state of piracy in the region?The assessment that there have been some victories in anti-piracy and counter terrorism efforts isindeed valid. The relative success is due to many measures by the stakeholders. The IMO, ship owners,Masters of vessels, navies of the world and others have all pitched in and have contributed to thesuccess by working together and being prepared for the piracy attacks at sea. Let me hasten to add thatthe menace is not over by any yard stick. The pirates are obviously on a wait and watch mode. There is asituation that can be classified as a temporary lull and one could witness increased attacks on smallerundefended vessels due to the high stakes involved. The phenomenon is already visible in Nigerianwaters where more attacks are taking place. The attacks there are more intense and severe with greatdanger to seafarers. Piracy will continue to be a challenge in many parts of the world as there are hugeinvestments and return on investment in piracy as an industry. The annual piracy cost is indicated at 9-11 billion USD. Last year alone, the estimates have been put at about 18 billion dollars. It has also beenindicated that there could be many foreign handlers who are in Somalia to make quick money using theopportunity. They are not the ones to be easily deterred as they have time and patience on their side. Itcan be even equated to the gold rush of the 19thcentury.The scourge of piracy has its roots over land and that is where lot more needs to be done. It is not thatmeasures are not being initiated ashore; just that there are issues of international understanding andneed for higher levels of cooperation to integrate Somalia in to the main stream of African and globaleco system. The role of signatories to the Djibouti Code of Conduct, IMO, and many other global andregional institutions will continue to drive the pace at which normalcy is restored in Somalia. This is acombination of social, political and economic issues which need assertive action.The 21st century has been described as a maritime century as much as it is anAsian century with the rise of China and India and Commodore RS Vasan(Retd), Head, Strategy and Security Studies, Center for Asia Studies, recentlyjoined us to discuss maritime security in the Indian Ocean and beyond.The security landscape has evolved since we last spoke with Commodore RSVasan in 2011 and topics on the agenda included piracy, the role of the IndianNavy, the impact of reduced defence budgets and the need forintergovernmental and interagency cooperation in securing the freedom ofnavigation.
  • 2. www.informa.com.au/portmaritimesecurityTina Karas, Conference Manager – Port & Maritime Security 2013tina.karas@informa.com.auWhat do you believe has contributed to these ‘victories’?The limited success and not a total victory as being made out is due to the combined internationaleffort of over forty navies of the world who rigorously pursued the anti-piracy missions in the high riskareas. The role of coordinating agencies such as the UKMTO, ReCAAP, PRC, navies of the world, and IMOcannot be underestimated. On the part of the Masters of the vessels and crew, there was greaterawareness and the Best Management Practices (BMP4) prescribed by the industry and regulators. Theships by and large scrupulously followed the guidelines thereby denying the pirates easy opportunities.The role of the armed guards likewise has been a significant deterrent at the tactical level, as thepossible use of force by the target ship kept the pirates at arm’s length. The industry and the IMO havenot totally accepted the necessity and role of armed guards due to certain incidents of indiscriminateshooting that has claimed innocent lives. However in the short term and may be even in the long term,the armed guards will continue to protect ships. However, the deployment of armed guards in the highrisk areas does cost the ship owners and if there is a perceived notion that it is safer now to sail withoutthe protection, it might witness the return of the pirates again. So it is indeed a Catch-22 situation.Do you think these actions and initiatives will have a long-term impact?As I have mentioned earlier, most of the actions initiated have succeeded in containing the scourge ofpiracy. However, it is the land that has the answers to providing long term solutions. So the fight againstpiracy has to be predominantly carried out over land while containing the impact at sea.Although the Indian Navy has had some recent success with patrolling its shores againstpirates, there is growing concern about the rising threat of Pakistani nuclear missile power.Can you tell us more about the role of the Indian Navy since the Mumbai terror attacks?I think the two issues are quite different from one another. The Indian Navy has been taking ondiversified roles since the Mumbai terror attacks. It is now at the apex of the Maritime SecurityArchitecture in Indian peninsula and oversees the entire range of operations from the East African Coastright up to the eastern extent of the Indian Ocean. The anti-piracy measures have brought ships frommany countries including from India for patrolling in the Gulf of Aden to protect the SLOCs. This is anongoing process that is also linked to the global initiatives in the region. Indian Navy has succeeded incontributing to the global anti-piracy missions by neutralising many mother ships and taking more than ahundred pirates in to custody. Jurisdictional and other issues do pose legal obstacles in prosecution andIndia has gone ahead to introduce a new anti-piracy bill in the parliament last year.As far as the nuclear threat from across the border is concerned, India has learned to live with thenuclear neighbours on its flanks and has mechanisms in place. There were serious concerns about thesafety of the nuclear arsenal in Pakistan, not just in India but also by US and others. At one stage, therewere fears that the nuclear weapons could fall in to the hands of terrorist aided organisations andoutfits.
  • 3. www.informa.com.au/portmaritimesecurityTina Karas, Conference Manager – Port & Maritime Security 2013tina.karas@informa.com.auIt appears that the recent elections in Pakistan has provided a window of opportunity for democracy totake roots and therefore reap the dividends of peace and stability when the two democraticgovernments start talking to each other to remove the trust deficit. There are expectations that thecivilian Government will have better control of the armed services and the nuclear trigger. The concernswill continue to be addressed at the political, strategic and military levels while acknowledging that nonation would use the nuclear weapons indiscriminately. India has a stated policy of no first use ofnuclear weapons but has systems in place to retaliate if attacked first by nuclear means.The return of democracy in Pakistan is a good sign and is being welcomed by all nations as it hopefullywill bring in effective civilian rule where the army and other arms are assisting the Government and notthe other way round.What do you see as the main threats to India’s current maritime security?The challenges in other than war situation continue to be about anti-piracy, marine pollution, fisheriesand livelihood, scientific exploration and engagement in the EEZ., With a long coast line of over 7516kilometers, an EEZ of 2 million square kilometers and a Search and Rescue Region (SRR) of four millionsquare kilometers, far flung Islands numbering over 1200 Island, the maritime security challenges areindeed immense.There is continued threat to our coasts from adversaries. The problems of illegal immigrants using Asiancountries as transit points to undertake long voyages to Australia throw up new challenges demandingenhanced levels of information sharing and joint action.The very definition of maritime security is no longer confined to conventional military security butencompasses all the headings listed above. The threats therefore come from poaching, unregulatedtraffic, insufficient levels of technology for MDA and lack of preparedness and capacity to guard thecoastline and the EEZ. These threats can only be overcome by building capacity and proactive capabilityto prevent and tackle developing situation at sea. India being the most equipped with maritime securitystructures in tact is in a position to contributing to stability, security and safety in the maritime domain.A number of governments across the world, Australia included, have reduced their defencebudgets. The Indian Navy received about a sixth of an overall defence budget of less than $40billion in fiscal 2012-13. What impact will this have on the Indian Navy’s capabilities?The reduction of budget allocation is a universal phenomenon particularly with the global economicdownturn. There would be long term impact on acquisition of new platforms, systems and technologieswhich will result in gaps in preparedness. India would need to find some home grown solutions toensure that the reduced budgets do not adversely affect the preparedness. There are options notnecessarily in the public domain which caters for such contingencies and allows for redeployment of
  • 4. www.informa.com.au/portmaritimesecurityTina Karas, Conference Manager – Port & Maritime Security 2013tina.karas@informa.com.auresources on either coast. This is also an opportunity for the like-minded nations to pool their resourcesto face the crunch.We’re approaching the 5-year anniversary of the Mumbai terrorist attacks. What are some ofthe key changes that have been implemented as a consequence at the attacks?The nation has embarked at many levels to overcome deficiencies in tools and techniques in buildingrobust maritime security architecture (MSA). The augmentation of the force levels has been accorded ahigh priority. Revamping of the entire MSA has been undertaken which places the Navy at the apex bothfor coastal and oceanic security. Without indulging in specificities, suffice to say that the intelligenceapparatus has been fine-tuned to be able to provide proactive timely intelligences. The coastal radarnetwork has been put in place by using old unused light houses to install radars and IR devices that canbe remotely operated by the security agencies for 24x7 surveillance.Speaking of anniversaries, on 01 July 2013, ISPS would complete nine years of existence. Hasthe geo-political environment and task for protecting ships and ports remained the same? Isthe ISPS still relevant?International Ship and Port Security code has definitely brought about a paradigm shift in ship and portsecurity since its inception in July2004. The ships, the ports, the owners, and the contractingGovernment or the Flag State are all on the same page when it comes to ensuring that the industry is ina high degree of readiness to prevent surprises in ports and onboard ships. The basic purpose ofensuring that the ships are not taken over and used as weapons, as was done by the suicide attackers inthe WTC attacks (to cause death and destruction )has largely been achieved. The caveat is that of coursethat no system is perfect and there is always a danger of complacency or human fallibility leading toanother surprise. The fact that all the stake holders are on the same page and are willing to exchangeinformation on a regular basis and also implement various measures as required by the ISPS hasrendered the task of potential terrorists, and unscrupulous operators that much more difficult.While the security of ships and ports by and large appears to be relatively safer, the piracy attacks thatincreased many fold between 2005 and 2011 brought in different challenges for ships transiting piracyprone areas. The efforts to protect ships from pirates have been discussed while responding to some ofthe questions above. The efforts therefore are to ensure that there is no disruption of mercantile marinetrade on which nations depend for their economy and even day to day living. One can say thereforethat while ISPS has been embraced and has been accepted as an effective tool for ship and port safety,the danger of piracy is taking center stage today.The 2009 Australian Defence White paper identified the Indian Ocean as an area of growingstrategic importance for Australia and the Indian and Australian Governments recentlystrengthened maritime security ties with a historic visit to Australia of Defence Minister A KAntony to meet his counterpart Stephen Smith in Canberra. The Ministers agreed to continue
  • 5. www.informa.com.au/portmaritimesecurityTina Karas, Conference Manager – Port & Maritime Security 2013tina.karas@informa.com.auongoing bilateral Naval exchanges to build confidence and familiarity between the Naviesand work towards a bilateral maritime exercise in 2015. How significant is suchintergovernmental cooperation?There are hardly any doubts about the importance of the Indian Ocean to the world. The warm waterports of the Indian Ocean Region and the Sea Lines of Communication from Africa to Australia and alsoto the East Asian Economies through the Malacca Straits have assumed enormous significance for thegrowing economies in the Asian century. India is currently the chair for the IOR-ARC and Australia is thevice chair. The two countries have come a long way in understanding the significance of their joint workfor the shared prosperity and development in the IOR region. The White paper therefore is right inacknowledging the growing importance of the strategic and economic alliance of the two democracies.Both Australia and India are now in a position to recalibrate their responses to the growing maritimechallenges in the region from the east coast of Africa to the coast of Australia. There are issues ofserious concern and the issue of illegal immigration is on the top of the list. The efforts by manynationals to seek illegal immigration has accentuated the concerns of safety of victims and also themodus operandi of unscrupulous elements who can wreak havoc in the maritime domain with long termimplications. . It is not just India and Australia who need to be concerned, it would be the responsibilityof all the nations in the region to come together and have mechanisms in place to restore law and orderat sea by collaborative efforts and cooperation. This obviously would lead to setting up of joint taskforces, joint training, sharing of resources, regional interaction with other stake holders, MoUs andpolicy prescriptions based on regular meetings and interactions.The 21st century has been described as a maritime century as much as it is an Asian centurywith the rise of China and India. At a time when Chinas postures in the seas have causedconcerns, how critical is the freedom of navigation for the Asia Pacific and Indian Oceanregions?The time tested concept of the freedom of navigation is something that needs to be protectedwhenever challenged. It is enshrined and supported by the United Nations Conventions on the Laws ofthe Seas (UNCLOS 1982). The number of nations who have not yet ratified /signed are indeed in aminority. The USA though has signed the convention, is yet to ratify the same due to domestic debateand differences. The root cause in both South China Sea and the East China sea is due to the conflictingnature of claims over areas in which large tracts of hydrocarbons/gas is expected. This by no meansshould come in the way of the right to navigation and innocent passage in any waters includingterritorial waters for purposes of safe navigation. Even China by its public statements appears to upholdthe concept. There is a need for clear international understanding and unambiguous guidelines toprevent escalation in contested areas which may impede legitimate international traffic .The bottomline is that whether it is the Indian Ocean or the Pacific ocean or any other ocean, the right of a seafarer to transit any waters for purposes of trade and traffic always needs to be upheld.
  • 6. www.informa.com.au/portmaritimesecurityTina Karas, Conference Manager – Port & Maritime Security 2013tina.karas@informa.com.auHow can the shipping industry best help governments and military in their efforts tosafeguard maritime security?There has always been this dilemma of how much safety is required and what cost? While the shippingindustry desires unimpeded traffic and unfettered movement of ships, cargo and crew with leastsecurity restrictions (and cost), the security agencies and the Governments would like to err on the sideof caution and thus there is a conflict of interests which is what needs to be managed.The shipping industry does comply with the laws of International organisations (it has no choice) anddoes respond well to the challenges. The profit driven industry has its own challenges, compulsions andobligations while ensuring that the key requirements of SAFE, EXPEDITIOUS, SECURE traffic are met fromend to end. The global economic down turn has affected the industry and there could be temptation attimes to cut corners. This is what needs to be monitored by regulating bodies. Despite the statistics toprove that those ships which comply with BMP are by and large not targeted by pirates, (or if targetedare in a position to avoid being taken over,) there are still many ships which do not necessarily complywith the provisions.While therefore it is important for the industry to achieve and sustain bench marks that promote safety,security and efficiency, it is equally important for the Governments and Regulatory authorities to besensitive and concerned about the changing nature of demands of the industry. The only way to achievethis harmonious relation is by regular interaction, feedback and other mechanisms that build mutualtrust and confidence. This at times becomes a tall order due to the nature of conflicting requirements ofthe stakeholders.Commodore RS Vasan will be discussing the evolving maritime security architecture in the IndianOcean since the Mumbai terror attacks at this year’s Port & Maritime Security conference on the 30thJuly 2013.Commodore RS Vasan served the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard for over 34 years, holdingmany important command and staff appointments. Prior to his retirement, he was the RegionalCommander at the Coast Guard Regional Head Quarters at Chennai overseeing maritime safety andsecurity in the Bay of Bengal. He is currently at the Center for Asia Studies as Head, Strategy andSecurity Studies.For more information on the conference, visit www.informa.com.au/portmaritimesecurityTo view our 2011 interview with Commodore RS Vasan visitwww.informa.com.au/conferences/transport-conference/shipping-conference/port-maritime-security/is-australia-susceptible-to-a-terrorist-attack

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