The India ocean region:

  • It is rich in energy resources and minerals such as gold, tin, uranium, cobalt, nickel, aluminum and cadmium, and also contains abundant fishing resources.
  • Roughly 55% of known oil reserves and 40% of gas reserves are in the Indian Ocean region. The Gulf and Arab states produce around 21% of the world’s oil, with daily crude exports of  up to 17,262 million barrels representing about 43% of international exports.
  • Indian Ocean ports handle about 30% of global trade and half  of  the word’s container traffic traverses the ocean.

However, the Indian Ocean has some of  the world’s most important choke points, notably the Straits of Hormuz, Malacca, and the Bab-el Mandeb.

Target PT

As these choke points are strategically important for global trade and energy flow, the security of them become strategically important.

Indian Ocean has always been vulnerable to criminals and anti-national activities. The Indian Ocean is an area of conflict. Some conflicts are internal and remain localised, but others are of global significance and are prone to foreign, political and military interference.

According to a recent analysis of global conflicts by the Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research, altogether 42% of world conflicts can be associated with Indian Ocean countries. Numerous cases of the smuggling of  goods, gold, narcotics, explosives, arms and ammunition as well as the infiltration of  terrorists into the country through these coasts have been reported over the years.

During the Cold War the newly independent Indian Ocean states of  Asia and Africa became subject to the competition between the superpowers. The resultant security balance in the region dissipated when the Cold War came to an end. The post-Cold War era saw the region becoming less stable, with much rivalry, competition, suspicion and turmoil.

Moreover, the maritime security environment in the Indian Ocean also underwent transformation. Because of weak government structures and a limited capacity to control maritime domains, all types of  illicit activities began to flourish in many parts of the Indian Ocean.

As a result, the region’s maritime security challenges are now considerable and are affected by key variables such as militarisation within the region, the involvement of major and extra-regional powers, and non-traditional security threats.

India faces a number of  threats and challenges that originate from the sea and which are mainly sub-conventional in nature. These threats and challenges can be categorised under following broad categories: maritime terrorism; piracy and armed robbery; smuggling and trafficking; infiltration, illegal migration and refugee influx; and the straying of  fishermen beyond the maritime boundary. Of  these, maritime terrorism has been featured as the most potent threat.

Major Security Threats faced by India are:

  1. Maritime Terrorism:

Cross border terrorism has taken an entirely new dimension. The Indian security establishment is on high alert to tackle the newest frontier of  terror - Maritime Terrorism. The Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) Working Group has defined maritime terrorism as:"the undertaking of terrorist acts and activities within the maritime environment, using or against vessels or fixed platforms at sea or in port, or against any one of their passengers or personnel, against coastal.

Mumbai Attack: The smuggling of explosives through the Raigad coast in Maharashtra and their use in the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai, and the infiltration of the 10 Pakistani terrorists through the sea route who carried out the multiple coordinated attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008, are the most glaring examples of  how vulnerable the country's coasts are.

 Lashkar-e-Toiba, (LeT) is planning to use the sea-route to infiltrate and attack India's oil assets in Bombay High, sabotage ports and target high value assets such as the atomic power plants located on the coast or attack INS Vikrant.

Intelligence agencies had informed the government that nearly 500 LeT terrorists were being trained in the

Azizabad coastal camps near Karachi to execute acts of maritime terrorism within India's Exclusive Economic

Zone (EEZ) as well as attack high value assets along India's more than 7,000 kms mainland coastline.

The terrorist organisations could misuse hundreds of Indian fishing boats seized over the years by the Pakistani Navy and Coast Guard for allegedly straying into Pakistani territorial waters. In fact, the thinking within the national security establishment was that these fishing boats could be used by Pakistan based terrorists to infiltrate into Indian waters through Indian Ocean.

  1. Piracy and Armed Robbery:

Piracy is part of a maritime insecurity environment in which different threats and forms of transnational organized crime, in particular fishery crimes, are linked. The rampant piracy off  the coast of  Somalia has forcefully reminded security and strategic experts that terror operations could well be outsourced to sea pirates as well. A hijacked merchant vessel carrying several thousand tonnes of the inflammable fertilizer ingredient ammonium nitrate could easily be turned into a mega bomb after entering an Indian harbour.

The movement by sea of large volume of commercial freight and its mandatory movement through maritime choke points, such as the Panama Canal, Suez Canal, Strait of  Hormuz, Strait of  Bab-el-Mandab, the Malacca Strait and the Bosporus Strait invite piracy.

Somalia and the Gulf of Aden:  Piracy has been predominant in the seas of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden between 2005 and 2012. There has also been an increasing number of attacks in the Gulf of Guinea. The Djibouti Code of Conduct was adopted in 2009 for Repression of Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf  of  Aden. Due to such efforts Somalia-based piracy has shown a significant decline after its peak in 2011.

Malacca Strait: Malacca Strait is located between Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. It is one of the world's most important international shipping routes, with 65,000 vessels passing through annually, carrying about one-third of the world trade and half of global energy supplies. It also connects Indian Ocean with the Pacific. This region has a reputation of piracy with most cases reported are 'hit-and-run' robberies of fishing boats and commercial vessels.

While attacks on fishermen by pirates are reported from all over the Sunderbans, Kendudweep and the mouths of the Rivers Matla, Bidya and Thakuran are particularly vulnerable.

Could piracy on high Seas morph into this new face of terrorism?

With well armed Somali pirates wreaking havoc on shipping lanes from the Indian Ocean to the Gulf  of  Aden between Somalia and Yemen, Al Qaeda and its associate terror groups could easily outsource maritime terrorism to mercenary pirate groups. From seizing cargo ships to supertankers ferrying millions of dollars of crude oil, the Somali pirates attacked and hijacked 90 vessels in 2008 for ransom and looting cargo from wheat to chemicals. Security experts suggest that terror groups could easily rope in pirates who have good knowledge of shipping routes, have access to satellite phones and communication links with ports in the region which enable them to access accurate satellite communication about cargo shipping lines.

  1. Smuggling and human trafficking:

Organised crime, trafficking and smuggling are increasingly linked to global patterns of  violence. Drugs and arms smuggling is rife in much of the Indian Ocean. The sea provides an easy way for international crime syndicates, unscrupulous traders and non-state actors to distribute their wares, or to provide belligerents with highly sophisticated weapons. Because of  the prevalence of  conflicts and insurgencies, arms smugglers find a ready market in areas such as the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. It is estimated that as much as 95 per cent of  'hard' drug production occurs in conflict zones, for example heroin and cannabis in Afghanistan. Organised crime is also engaged in much of  the counterfeit trade, which includes everything from cigarettes to famous brand-name fashions and medicines. It is estimated that as much as 50 per cent of all pharmaceuticals sold in Africa and Asia could be counterfeit.

While the entire coast of the India is vulnerable to clandestine landings of contraband, the Gujarat-Maharashtra coastline, the Tamil Nadu coast, the Sunderbans in West Bengal, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have been particularly prone to such activities.

People from areas that offer few opportunities are constantly looking for illegal ways of moving to countries in the developed world. Large international trafficking networks operate across the Indian Ocean. As arms and drugs, trafficking in human beings is the best source of  income to organised crime, but, shockingly, it appears that human trafficking is now beginning to replace drugs as the second largest source of income since 'bodies can be replaced'.

CASE STUDY: With the start of civil war in Sri Lanka and the influx of Sri Lankan refugees and militant cadres into India, additional items such as arms, ammunition, gelatine sticks, detonators, boat engines, diesel, etc. were smuggled out of the shores of Tamil Nadu. By the mid-1990s, heroin originating in Afghanistan and Pakistan began to be smuggled out of the Tamil Nadu coast. Even after the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, the smuggling of gold and drugs has continued unabated. The strong links between criminal groups and ex-LTTE rebels that were established during the years of  war have remained unbroken, thus facilitating the smooth running of their operations.

 In India difficult terrain, porous borders, strong linkages between people residing on either side of  the border, and poor surveillance has made the Sunderbans a smuggler's paradise.

  1. Infiltration, Illegal Migration and the Refugee Influx:

India's land boundaries have always been porous to infiltration by terrorists/militants and large scale illegal migration. These large scale influxes over the decades have resulted in widespread political turmoil in the border states.

As far as infiltration by the sea route is concerned, the creek areas of  Gujarat have been highly vulnerable. Geographical proximity to Pakistan and a terrain that is conducive for stealth movements make the region ideal for infiltration.

The Indian security and intelligence agencies have also highlighted the fact that suspected members of  LeT and other terrorist groups operating from Pakistan could infiltrate through Lakshadweep.

The eastern and southern coasts face the problem of illegal migration and the influx of refugees. Pushed by political turmoil, religious and political persecution, overwhelming poverty, and lack of  opportunities in their countries, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi nationals have been migrating to India illegally for decades. Although such people do not pose a direct threat to India's security, but the probability that terror operatives could take advantage of  this and sneak into the country in the guise of  migrants and refugees remains. Also, given the harsh economic conditions in the countries from where they come, the propensity towards indulging in illegal activities to earn easy money is also greater in the migrant populations.

The Tamil Nadu coast has been experiencing a steady inflow of  Sri Lankan refugees since civil war broke out in that country. The maximum influx of  refugees took place in the initial years of  the ethnic war. Between 1983 and 1991, a total of  2.56 lakh refugees took shelter in Tamil Nadu.

   5. Straying of Fishermen beyond the Maritime Boundary:

The frequent straying of fishermen into neighbouring country waters has not only jeopardised the safety of the fishermen but has also raised national security concerns. Fishermen who trespass into a neighbour country's waters are invariably arrested along with their boats. On many occasions, they have also been fired upon by security agencies of  the neighbouring country. Sometimes straying into neighbours waters invites attacks from pirates, as often happens along the India-Bangladesh maritime border.

  1. Environmental security

Insufficient emphasis is placed on environmental security in the Indian Ocean, which is particularly serious since the degradation of the environment, climate change and the overexploitation of ocean resources are threatening the interests and futures of all the region's countries and peoples. This will increase the likelihood of flooding, resulting in loss of life and damage to property, as illustrated by recent tsunamis and cyclones. The existence of communities residing on low-lying islands such as the Maldives will be severely threatened. African countries are also likely to be affected adversely by climate change owing to the risks posed to food production and water resources. Since close to 40 per cent of Asia's roughly four billion inhabitants live within 100km of  the coast, climate change is likely to affect their quality of  life and security.

Somalia Dumping Ground: The waters off  Somalia, in particular, have been badly affected as they are within easy reach of  industrial countries, public awareness is low and influential locals have allowed toxic waste dumping to occur, usually in exchange for foreign currency payments. Somalia has been a dumping ground for hazardous waste since the early 1990s. It is much cheaper for European companies to dispose of waste here than in other parts of the world.

    7. Ocean resources security

Because of  the growth in global prosperity and technological advances, competition for resources in and under the oceans, specifically energy and protein, is intensifying. World energy consumption is growing significantly, particularly in Asia and the Middle East. The fast-growing Indian and Chinese economies are forecast to be the key energy consumers in the future. As national efforts to control energy sources and to secure energy shipments are increasing, some observers contend that energy competition may result in conflict. However, a counter view is that it is in the common interest of the powers concerned to maintain a stable trading environment.

Why do we need to Ensure Maritime Security in Indian Ocean?

From the strategic and economic point of view, ensuring maritime security is vital for India and Indian Ocean's Countries. Various reasons as to why we need to secure maritime are given below:

  • Economic progress
  • Energy security
  • Marine Environment
  • Protection of Port facilities
  • Maritime Transport encompassing goods and people  Safety of navigation
  • Fisheries
  • Manage water pollution  Stop Infiltration

Measures against Security threats

The measures that have been taken and planned to enhance the coastal security includes at National and International level.


Indian Navy continuously carries out patrols, goodwill visits and joint training to display a show of  force, increased their presence in affected regions and integrate with other navies of  the region for the safety and the security of the maritime domain.

Government of India created 2 specialised forces: the Customs Marine Organisation and the Indian Coast Guard.

The Customs Marine Organisation: The Customs Marine Organisation (CMO) was created following the recommendations of the Nag Chaudhari Committee. The objective of the committee was to suggest the optimum assets required for anti-smuggling operations as well as recommend ways to curb smuggling through the sea.

The Indian Coast Guard: The creation of a coast guard which could perform a variety of duties ranging from patrolling the territorial and contiguous waters; enforcing criminal laws in these waters; ensuring compliance of laws relating to shipping, fishing and pollution; assisting the Customs Department in anti-smuggling operations; and conducting search and rescue and other specified duties.

The national authority for Maritime Search and Rescue Region in the Indian Search and Rescue Region; and The Lead Intelligence Agency (LIA) for coastal borders.

Operation Tasha: The Indian Navy launched Operation Tasha on June 21, 1990 with the objectives of preventing illegal immigration and the infiltration of  LTTE militants to and from Sri Lanka.

Operation Swan: Operation Swan was launched in April 1993, in the immediate aftermath of  the Mumbai bomb blasts. Its aim was to prevent clandestine landings of contraband and illegal infiltration along the Maharashtra and Gujarat coasts.

The Marine Police Force: The marine police force was created under the Coastal Security Scheme (CSS) that was launched in 2005. The aim of the CSS was to strengthen infrastructure for patrolling and the surveillance of the coastal areas, particularly the shallow areas close to the coast.

Multilayered Surveillance System: A multilayered system of  surveillance of  the country's maritime domain involving the Indian Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Police, Customs, and the Fishermen had come into being following the series of measures that were implemented over the years to secure India's coasts prior to the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008. The multilayered surveillance system was, however, functioning only along the Gujarat and Maharashtra coasts. Under the system, the outer layer (beyond 50 nautical) was patrolled by the Indian naval and coast guard ships and aircraft; the intermediate layers (25-50 nautical miles) was patrolled by the ships of  the Indian navy and the ICG as well as hired trawlers; and the inner layer i.e. the territorial waters (shoreline to 12 nautical miles), was patrolled by the joint patrolling team and later by the marine police. A similar system was also functional along the Tamil Nadu coast, but with slight modifications.

Electronic Surveillance: Government of India has launched the coastal surveillance network project. The network comprises the coastal radar chain, the Automatic Identification System (AIS), and VTMS. The project involves the setting up of  46 static radars along the Indian coastline, 36 in the mainland and 10 in the island territories under Phase I. An additional 38 radars will be installed under Phase II, which would be supplemented by 8 mobile surveillance systems.

 Monitoring, Control and Surveillance of Fishermen: All big fishing trawlers (20 metres and above) are being installed with transponders. As for small fishing vessels, a proposal to fit them with the Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) is under consideration. Colour codes are being assigned to them for easy identification at sea. Furthermore, Distress Alert Transmitters (DATs) are being provided to fishermen so that they can alert the ICG if they are in distress at sea. Global Positioning System (GPS), communication equipment, echo- sounder, and a search and rescue beacon for fishermen.


2016 marks the beginning of the transition of the counter-piracy response in the Horn of Africa. Many states have already significantly reduced their involvement in counter-piracy. Recently, the High Risk Area has been revised, which documents that international stakeholders are altering the approach they take to contain piracy.

Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS). The IONS is a voluntary initiative that seeks to increase maritime cooperation among navies of  the littoral states of  the Indian Ocean region. It has 23 countries as members including India.

Heads of Asian Coast Guard Agencies Meeting (HACGAM). HACGAM provides a platform for panregional cooperation and was a take off from the Regional Senior Experts Meetings of Coast Guard Agencies of Asia which were held for combating piracy and armed robbery against ships. The first meeting was held in Tokyo in June 2004 and involved 17 nations including India.

Indian Ocean Rim Association. Their charter is to promote the sustained growth and balanced development of the region and of the member states. Maritime Safety and Security is one of key roles. It has 20 countries as members including India.

Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS). They are a series of  biennial meetings of the Pacific nations to discuss naval matters held on even numbered years. A WPNS workshop is held on odd numbered years in between the symposiums. 25 countries have been participating including India.

Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (CSCAP). CSCAP is a non-governmental (Track II) process for dialogue on security issues in the Asia-Pacific. Membership in CSCAP is on an institutional basis and consists of member countries. Current membership comprises Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Canada, China, the EU, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Democratic People's Republic of  Korea, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and the United States.

The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) was concluded in September 4, 2006, by 14 contracting countries for this region in which India was also a member. This also includes the ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre for sharing of  piracy-related information.


India faces many threats and challenges from its maritime domain. Whereas some of these threats and challenges are manifest, others are potential in nature. The scope and intensity of  the threats and challenges also varies. While threats such as maritime terrorism have the enormous ability to destroy national security, challenges like smuggling and the straying of  fishermen can also jeopardise the safety of  the nation. Thus, securing the country's coasts and its adjacent seas from these threats and challenges requires a comprehensive strategy. Over the years, Indian policy makers and security establishments have been engaged in devising policies and measures to put in place an effective response mechanism to deal with these threats and challenges.

With the present thrust on 'Make in India' policy, the maritime trade is bound to grow in the coming years and so will be the importance of security of the maritime trade in Indian Ocean. Creating a global piracy contact group and Regional, sub-regional and multinational cooperation to cover regional hotspots, is a main proposal for more Security over Indian Ocean.

Significant marine trading route

Ever multiplying security & strategic significance

Indian Ocean has been proven for its crude oil & natural gas resources. Further the large potential of natural gas on the eastern coast of India and commercial potentialities of tidal energy add significant advantage to India's energy reserves.

The biotic resources as commercially proven category include sea weeds, planktons and pearls; however in the reference to increasing requirement of  raw material supplies and diversification, nektonic biotic assets have also been exploited on commercial lines. This has multiplied many folds in the recent past primarily due to deceased harvest of the traditional food fish from the temperate waters. In mineral resources commercially exploitable salt & manganese nodules add to the India's resource base.

Geopolitical significance of India because of its maritime position lies in, being on the maritime trade route of the Indian Ocean. The Ocean is strategically significant because of its energy reserves. Strait of Malacca in the east and Suez canal & cape of good hope in the west as an entry & exit point of this ocean commands more than 70% of the world's seaborne trade in oil transits and more than 50% global container movement through Indian Ocean choke points including strait of Hormuz, strait of Bab-el Mandel.

Strategic significance of India also increase because of geographic transitional position in the middle of interconnecting Atlantic & Pacific Ocean trade route & its being the only major naval power to provide the safety & security to the trade in the region.

Strategic & security significance of India's maritime location also increases because of it being a Rimland which have significant technological, economic and military capacity. Its possession of nuclear power & locational advantage of launching ballistic missile adds to its importance toward geopolitical sensitivities. India's engagement with regional & extra regional power in joint naval exercise to contain piracy in the Indian ocean, safety of sea lanes and mutual understating to work on a joint operation in the ocean ensure the trust of most of the Indian ocean rim countries in India's capability & future of its being a global power to maintain peace in the region.

To leverage the potential of  being present on the oceanic trade route, Indian Government has called for the blue economy development, modernization of  its ports, Sagarmala programme, Industrial parks and logistic parks. This will provide the port led development in the Indian coastal states thus fuel the Indian economy.

However India has significant concerns of permanent Chinese expansion into the Indian Ocean have been validated with the $20 billion dollar 'Maritime Silk Road' project announcement by Beijing. For New Delhi, this remains a contentious and complex issue of balancing security engagements with Indo-Pacific neighbours, as well as embracing China economically but simultaneously attempting to restrain their maritime influence, creating a fragile environment in the Indian Ocean. Other challenges include technology capacity build up to leverage on the resource base of Indian Ocean and contain piracy in the Indian Ocean.

Recent efforts of  India of  its Naval diplomacy with the Indian Ocean Rim countries and outer world powers & modernizing its naval fleet would provide a peaceful solution to the ambitions of  India in the Indian Ocean.


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