New Delhi, April 22 (IANS) India has called for "clear demarcation" of the pirate-infested waters of the Indian Ocean to warn merchant vessels and the navies of the threat and to prevent incidents such as the killing of two Indian fishermen by Italian commandos guarding a cargo ship.
This demand was made by Indian Navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma at the third biennial Indian Ocean Naval Symposium held in Cape Town, South Africa, between April 11 and 14 where the issue of piracy that afflicts the Gulf of Aden was the key focus of discussions.
The IONS meet, attended by 22 navies of the 35 littoral nations of the Indian Ocean, also decided to have common procedures for jointly fighting piracy in the region, apart from developing concepts for cooperative efforts at Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) and in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), according to Indian Navy's assistant chief (Foreign Cooperation and Intelligence) Rear Admiral Monty Khanna.
Apart from the naval and shipping aspect to Verma's demand for clear demarcation, a major area of concern for the trade via the sea, particularly for those in India, was the high premium they have to pay for insuring the goods passing through the Indian Ocean.
Since Somali pirate activity was observed in eastern Arabian Sea in October-November 2010, the London-based maritime agencies designated the region as pirate-infested and hiked insurance premium for cargo vessels passing through the region.
However, the Indian Navy has pointed out that it has, apart from deploying a warship in Gulf of Aden since October 2007 to escort cargo ships, had increased its patrol of the eastern Arabian Sea from October 2010 and since then, there has been no pirate-related incident closer to the Indian sub-continent.
India, hence, wants the international agencies to rationalise the demarcation at regular intervals and tweak insurance premium for cargo ships passing through eastern Arabian sea.
It also pointed out that the Italian commandos had fatally attacked the Indian fishermen in the eastern Arabian Sea, since they were still under the impression the area is infested by pirates, all due to irrationality of piracy notifications.
The IONS meet also wanted the littoral navies to evolve common strategies to tackle piracy in the Indian Ocean region and other problems.
As a first step towards achieving interoperability, IONS has entrusted the job of preparing concept papers and draft standard operating procedures (SOPs) on anti-piracy to Australia, HADR to India and MDA to Singapore.
"It has been suggested that the SOPs should be ratified by the member-navies through a table top exercise that will iron out the wrinkles," Khanna said.
IONS, an association for Indian Ocean littoral navies, came into existence in February 2008 through an initiative started by the Indian Navy. The present chairmanship of the initiative is with South Africa and the leadership will pass on to Australia in 2014.
"We are looking at IONS as a cooperative set up with all its members, irrespective of their naval size, as equal partners," said Khanna, who participated in the Cape Town symposium representing the Indian Navy.
The Cape Town IONS meet witnessed participation from 23 non-members, including navy chiefs from Germany, Brazil, Chile and Italy, signifying the importance the initiative has gained over the last four years and the potential it holds for the future, Khanna said.
IONS is modelled on the "much older and matured" Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS), an initiative which includes the littoral nations of the Pacific Ocean, including the US.
IONS has just prepared its charter of business, which is likely to be ratified at its next meeting. Then, IONS will consider applications from non-littoral nations such as the US as observers, though Iran, a member, wants strict norms for according such a status to non-littoral navies.
The South Africa edition of IONS witnessed partnership from China too, with one of its naval representative presenting a paper on their experience in anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden. Pakistan was represented at IONS by a commodore-rank officer.
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