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Are the existing Maritime Laws in India sufficient enough to safeguard Maritime Security?

By: Kunjan Makwana


India can be deemed to be regarded as a maritime state which has a long coastline that is 7500 kilometres long. Since India is a maritime nation, it has 274 islands that are surrounding the Indian territory in close consonance to the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, which can also be deemed to be regarded as the top most point of the Indian Ocean. The Indian subcontinent is spread across a massive area comprising 1000 kilometres venturing into the northern part of the Indian Ocean in the form of a wedge and this part can be said to have two distinct subregions.

Mr. K.M. Panikkar once opined that, “It is the geographical position of India that brings about the multitude of changes in the character of the Indian Ocean.”[1]  It is highly imperative to understand that the Indian Ocean plays a very significant role when it comes to the sovereignty of India and it is worthy to note that whenever India has neglected the Indian Ocean, it has had a tough time dealing with its sovereignty and this was quite evident even during the time when the European Powers had a standing in India. The Indian Ocean can be deemed to be regarded as a crucial water body for India as it has enabled India to carry out foreign trade activities and there exists innumerable evidence to support the fact that India has majorly relied upon the Indian Ocean when it came to trading and these evidences can be traced way back to the 9th Century BCE.[2]  In fact, Maritime Trade still plays a significant role in contributing to the economy of India despite there being innumerable geographical shifts when it comes to dealing with India’s patterns of trading with other countries via the sea route. However, it is quite pertinent to consider that a huge number of these commodities that India imports, enter the Indian Territory via sea route and therefore it is quite pertinent for India to take extreme measures when it comes to developing its maritime security as in the coming years it is ought to play a very prominent role which would enable India to develop itself globally. It can be said that the maritime laws in India are their nascent stage and the legislation needs to work towards making maritime laws in India much more comprehensive and robust.

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It is imperative to note that the Government is taking initiatives when it comes to developing the maritime regime in India. Certain initiatives by the Prime Minister, like the Prime Minister’s vision with regards to the Security and the Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) along with a clear emphasis on the advancements made in maritime infrastructure is something which has received tremendous accolades and these initiatives have thoroughly enabled India to achieve greater milestones when it comes to developing its Maritime infrastructure which needs to be focused upon if India wishes to emerge as an all-round winner in its immediate neighbourhood. India needs to primarily focus on the issues and security concerns that are hovering in the Indian Ocean region, (hereinafter referred to as, “IOR”). It should be India’s primary concern to focus upon its maritime security framework because the current pieces of legislation governing the Maritime Laws regime in India are sadly not robust enough. India needs to bolster its resources when it comes to developing its maritime security in the IOR.

India’s Maritime Interest

In order to understand India’s maritime interests, it is imperative to primarily understand whether the maritime security in India is in place or not. First, it is quite necessary to understand what is meant by maritime interests. Maritime Interests can be deemed to be regarded as those interests which take under its ambit crucial aspects pertaining to a country’s ability to claim its maritime realm, which is extremely imperative when it comes to a country’s survival and development. It is highly recommended that a country takes measures and fosters its resources in order to preserve these interests as these interests could be deemed to be regarded as key interests of a country and they play a major role in securing the national security of any country. India, primarily undertakes its business activities via the sea route and therefore it is extremely necessary for a country like India to closely delve into making military and nationalistic strategies when it comes to its maritime interests.

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Maritime Territory

India is deemed to have a large coastline which extends to 7517 Kilometres and takes under its umbrella, 1200 islands. A lot of these islands can be said to be extremely distant from the main coastline of India, for instance, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands can be deemed to be regarded as those islands which are approximately 1600 Kilometres away from the closest coastline of India. India’s territorial sea occupies approximately 1,93,834 square kilometres and the Exclusive Economic Zone (hereinafter referred to as, “EEZ”) takes under its scope approximately 2.02 million square kilometres (sqkm). The living and the non-living resources that reside in this zone, amount to two-thirds of the landmass that India occupies and these resources, whether living or nonliving, exclusively fall under the ownership of India and they can be deemed to be regarded as a part of India, which also enables India to carry out its transportation activities and this has clearly opened innumerable opportunities for India to carry out its trade activities through this area. This part can also be deemed to be regarded as a part which is home to 51% of India’s oil resources and 66% of natural gas reserves. It is imperative to note that the protection and preservation of these natural resources not only deals with the territorial integrity of the nation but also takes into consideration the safety, which is a highly important factor. These routes act as a safety border which enables India to maintain its territorial integrity and at the same time secures India from potential external threats.

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Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs)

It is quite imperative to understand the need for Sea Lines as they can be gauged from the fact that the oceans supported about four fifths of the total world merchandise trade pertaining to the year 2014.[3] In a period spanning 10 years, India has diversified itself and has stepped foot in sea trade and its trading activities have multiplied at a constant rate of 3.3 percent. India’s maritime container trading figures have also significantly risen and there has been a steady growth of 6.5 percent which can be deemed to be regarded as a significant growth when compared to the world average of 5.4 percent over the period spanning ten years. On the other hand, the cargo traffic at the ports in India has also seen a massive bull run and it has touched a milestone of 1 billion tonnes per year as compared to the last decade (Financial Year 2005-2015) and it can surely reach the 1.7 billion tonnes per year mark in the next two years, i.e. by the year 2022.[4] These numbers depict that over 95 percent of India’s trading activities lie in the SLOCs and International waters play a major role when it comes to India excelling in the field of trade and commerce via sea routes. The International Shipping Lanes of the Indian Ocean which is used by India requires dire attention and the security needs to be worked upon in order for India to sufficiently continue its trading activities overseas.

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Maritime Economy

Needless to say, the Indian economy is majorly dependent on the energy imports that it has indulged into. Apart from this, the Indian economy also relies on the total domestic oil consumption and it imports oil from other countries and these import activities are eased since India has the Indian Ocean passage when it comes to importing oil. These import activities are undertaken by vessels which travel by the sea and offshore oil gas production can be said to be accounting for almost 80 percent of all domestic gas that is produced. Approximately, 95 percent of the trade that India undertakes internationally by volume and over 70 percent of its value is carried over by the sea routes.[5] India can also be deemed to be regarded as the world’s fourth largest producer of fish and majority of these fishes are imported and come from the sea.[6] The maritime economy of India includes a prominent network of 13 major and approximately 200 minor ports all along the coast. It is imperative at this conjecture to throw light upon the Sagarmala project which has delved into the development of a port and has also significantly contributed towards the quick and efficient transportation of goods and services to and from the ports. It is therefore quite imperative for the Government to build this nascent maritime economy and take initiatives in order to ensure that it is free from impediments and potential external threats.

Maritime Investments

India has contributed in a number of industries such as the infrastructure, energy and services industry in a lot of countries which can be deemed to be regarded as its immediate maritime neighbours. India has also established a research station in Antarctica which enables India to carry out research activities in a wide variety of areas, however, India has majorly worked towards the development of the technology which would enable India to deal with the global climate change issues. India has shown tremendous potential when it comes to venturing into deep sea mining activities and is working in close consonance with the International Seabed Authority, which has accorded it a pioneer status and at the same time has provided 75000 square kilometres of seabed area in the Central part of the Indian Ocean. ONGC Videsh Ltd has ventured into oil exploration activities and has set up its oil exploration plant in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Vietnam. ONGC Videsh Ltd is carrying out these activities within the two blocks which the Vietnamese Government has allocated to it and because of this the Chinese Government is causing disruptions and China has made claims alleging that the activities carried out by ONGC Videsh Ltd along with the Vietnamese Government are illegal and are jeopardising the status of the already in dispute South China Sea. However, India is still in its nascent stages and is taking innumerable efforts when it comes to developing its economy in the maritime sector, however, it is important for India to ensure that it is secure from external threats which could severely jeopardise the inimical interests.

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India’s Maritime Security Concerns

India’s maritime security has been a crucial issue and these issues arise from the threats, which have majorly occurred in the interest of the Indian Ocean and this is in direct consonance to India’s varied maritime interests. It is crucial to understand that a number of these potential maritime threats which are lurking over India have a direct influence on the other stakeholders in the Indian region and this may have a significant impact on India, since India is, “already assuming her responsibilities when it comes to securing the Indian Ocean region.[7]  India faces immense potential threats from its neighbours and these potential threats could seriously harm the national interests of the country during times of war and hostilities which are never taken into consideration since they fall under the scope and the ambit of war fighting, however, what is important at this conjecture is to ensure that the legislature gets out of its lethargy and establishes a robust and comprehensive piece of legislation which governs the maritime activities. There lurks a constant threat to the SLOCs as the SLOCs in the IOR are extremely susceptible to being disrupted by a wide variety of traditional and non-traditional threats over the years. However, India has constantly depended upon the seas when it comes to carrying out trading activities and these threats which are constantly lurking over the SLOCs in the IOR could be resolved if a comprehensive legislation is enacted and put in force. The Legislature needs to enact a law which may act as a shield over all the nefarious activities that could be deemed to be regarded as a potential harm to the maritime security of India. For instance, Piracy, Regional Instability, Trafficking of Goods and Humans, Terrorism, et. Cetera could all be controlled if a proper and a comprehensive law is enacted by the legislature. There have even been instances of illegal unreported and unregulated fishing, which has proven to be a severe issue for the marine communities around the globe and the governments of a number of coastal states are constantly endeavouring towards enforcing international and national maritime laws which are robust and control these aforementioned activities.

Regional Security Architecture in the IOR

India has always been cooperative and has taken a very positive approach when it comes to bolstering maritime security in the IOR. This is evident from PM Narendra Modi’s aim of SAGAR, also known as the Security And Growth for All in the Region.[8] The IOR has innumerable arrangements in this particular area and this area can be said to be restricted for other countries. India has taken innumerable efforts and has developed the IORA which is the Indian Ocean Rim Association, which was launched in the year 1997 and its goal is to promote the growth of intra-regional economy. However, maritime security and safety has not been given much emphasis, but the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium is another initiative which was founded in the year 2008 and it works in the direction of improving the maritime co-operation between the navies of various littoral states surrounding the Indian Ocean Region. However, again this is an initiative by the Navy and there is a clear absence of the government’s participation.

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In a nutshell, a comprehensive and an overarching security framework for the Indian Ocean Region is extremely crucial for the government to develop considering the current geopolitical status and the developmental activities being carried out by the various littoral states. The Legislature needs to emphasize on how important it is for India to have a responsibility of regional states when it comes to maintaining peace, stability and prosperity in the Indian ocean. India needs to make a concerted effort in the form of a robust piece of legislation if it aims to mitigate the innumerable threats lurking over it.

[1] KM Panikkar, “India and the Indian Ocean: An Essay on the Influence of Sea Power on Indian History.”

[2] “The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea”, Longmans Green & Co, 1912.

[3] UNCTAD Review of Maritime Transport 2015, Page 5.

[4] Facts & Figures, Maritime India Summit 2016.

[5] Facts & Figures, Maritime India Summit 2016.

[6] FAO yearbook 2012, Page 9.

[7] ICC IMB Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships, 01st January-31st December, 2015.

[8] PM Modi’s Speech Commissioning of Mauritius CG Ship Barracuda, 12th March, 2015.

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