India for demarcation of piracy-hit Indian Ocean

Indian Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma also raised the issue of deployment of armed guards on-board merchant vessels.

New Delhi: India has asked Indian Ocean region countries for a "clear" demarcation of piracy-infested waters and sought setting up of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to promote inter-operability and understanding among the navies active in the area.

During the recently concluded Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) in South Africa, Indian Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma also raised the issue of deployment of armed guards on-board merchant vessels.

Highlighting Indian Navy`s role in containing piracy in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), Admiral Verma said that there should be a clear demarcation on the zone of piracy, according to Navy`s Assistant Chief, Foreign Cooperation and Intelligence (FCI), Rear Admiral Monty Khanna.

Briefing mediapersons on the IONS, held in Cape Town between April 10 and 13, he said, "As far as insurance agencies (in the shipping industry) are concerned, they mark out the entire area (IOR) as the piracy-affected waters and that results in rise of the insurance rates which impacts us and all the trade that is plying in this area."

Based on the concept of Western Pacific Naval Symposium which was started in 1988 as a forum for discussing maritime issues of countries in the Western Pacific Ocean region, IONS facilitates similar interaction between the countries in the IOR.

In the wake of recent incident off the Kerala coast where two Indian fishermen were killed by armed guards on-board an Italian merchant tanker, Indian Navy also raised the issue of deploying armed guards on commercial ships.

"The issue (of deploying armed guards on merchant ships) was highlighted. It is the issue that everyone is grappling with right now," Rear Admiral Khanna said.

Khanna hoped that a decision is likely to be taken on the issue of deploying armed guards on commercial ships.

"Either you have Vessel Protection Detachments of the uniformed personnel onboard merchant vessels or private security personnel. But there are issues, such as how do you facilitate these people when they enter a port or disembark? Some decision is likely to be taken soon on it," he said.

The four-day long symposium was attended by 35 nations in the IOR along with some non-IONS countries like Germany, Brazil, Italy and Chile.

The symposium also discussed issues such as its charter-which has yet not been ratified- and observer status to other naval powers.

Iran, a key member of the IONS, expressed its objection on awarding observer status to some of the countries. Though Admiral Khanna did not mention any specific country, he said the US has requested for it.

"Iran had issues regarding the status of observers which had to be resolved," he said, adding that the draft charter will address these issues including that of observer status to other countries beyond the IOR.

Some of the important decisions taken at the symposium include countries coming forward to develop concept papers on issues of common interest such as piracy, disaster relief and management, interoperability in high seas and maritime domain awareness.

"We (Indian Navy) said that we would be willing to take humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) issue and we could come out with a concept paper. Australia and Singapore were tasked with developing concept papers on anti-piracy and maritime domain awareness issues repectively," he said.

At present, IONS is being headed by South Africa and in 2014 the chair will be handed over to Australia.