Coast Guard defending India’s shores with depleted assets

December 3rd, 2008 - 2:38 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 3 (IANS) The brazen Mumbai terror attack has underlined that India’s vast 7,516-km-long coastline is the country’s Achilles’ heel with the Coast Guard grappling with depleted assets and a Marine Police force that has miserably failed to supplement coastal security.The Nov 26 assault on India’s commercial and entertainment capital has brought into focus several gaping holes in India’s coastal security architecture. A porous coastline, touching nine states and four union territories, 13 major and 185 minor ports, and a huge 2.01 million sq km Exclusive Economic Zone is proving to be difficult to patrol.

“The Coast Guard has an authorised strength of 106 vessels and 52 aircraft. However, currently it is working with its force level of 92 ships and boats, many of them ageing, and 45 aircraft to protect the maritime and other national interests of India,” a Coast Guard official told IANS, speaking on condition of anonymity.

However, there is a total mismatch between this and the Coast Guard’s projection of its force requirement.

“On our part, the projected requirement is of as many as 268 ships, 113 aircraft, 18 UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and a wide array of radars by 2017 to effectively meet the growing operational challenges of maritime security,” the official added.

For a city that got a warning of the open seas being exploited by the perpetrators of the 1993 serial bombings when a large amount of ammunition landed on its shores undetected, the attack on Nov 26, when the terrorists used the sea route to sweep into Mumbai, is a wake-up call.

If this were not worrisome enough, what is of greater concern is the slow pace at which the Marine Police forces are being set up in the coastal states. The Marine Police have been envisaged as the first line of defence along India’s coastline to patrol the waters up to 10 km from the shore. Currently, this area is secured by the Coast Guard.

The concept was mooted for the first time in 2006 against the backdrop of the 1993 terror attacks in Mumbai but it took off only in the beginning of 2007. The Coast Guard was asked to impart training to the state police forces and help them find their ’sea legs’.

Sanction has been accorded for setting up 73 coastal police stations, 97 check posts and 58 outposts.

“So far about 58 coastal police stations have already been made operational, which is a little more than the halfway mark,” the official said.

“The coastal police stations are to be equipped with 204 boats, 149 jeeps and 312 motorcycles for increasing the mobility of police personnel on the coast and in close coastal waters. So far, orders for some 90 high speed boats of 10-tonne and 20-tonne class have been placed with various shipyards across the country,” the official added.

Once the Marine Police force takes off fully, the Coast Guard will be responsible for the coastal waters between 10 km from the shore and 50 km, with the Indian Navy guarding the waters beyond that.

The coastal areas in the western region are considered more sensitive and intelligence agencies have voiced concern over the influx of militants into states like Gujarat and Maharashtra, both of which border the Arabian Sea.

These coastal routes coupled with the land border along Nepal and Bangladesh are the most preferred routes of terrorists to infiltrate and smuggle in arms and explosives into Indian territory.

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