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ARTICLE : Expanding India’s maritime footprint
Thursday, 25 April 2013 04:16

Expanding India’s maritime footprint

While the Indian Navy addresses the security aspect, the Ministry of Shipping must ensure adequate administrative and budgetary support to expedite development of modern ports and remove hurdles for speedier growth of private shipping

THE tradition of celebrating the Maritime Day of India in April was started in 1964 to mark the day when the first Indian owned ship, SS Loyalty of the Scindia Steam Navigation Company set sail from Bombay for the United Kingdom in 1919. This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the pioneering voyage. Over these past 94 years India has taken tremendous strides in the realms of sea trade and warfare and is a sea power of reckoning. The rugged races of the land locked northern region of the country, imbibed with an intense spirit of adventure and entrepreneurship, have made noteworthy contribution to the tradition of the seafarers since centuries. Besides contributing along the 7,517km of the Indian Coast in varied roles they have ventured out unhesitatingly into uncharted waters to work and inhabit in new lands across the seven seas.

The renowned 17th century trader-mariner, Baba Makhan Shah Lobana, in whose memory stands the Baba Makhan Shah Lobana Foundation in Chandigarh, was one of the stalwarts. It is also apt to remember and honour this gallant sailor who traded fearlessly over the Arabian Sea during the same era when the notorious sea pirate Captain Kidd roamed and ravaged the seas from the east coast of Africa to the Indian subcontinent, plundering soft targets. It was during one of Makhan Shah's many voyages that he encountered a furious storm. His fully laden ship creaked and tossed in the heavy treacherous gale. The sail was ripped to taters and the small ship drifted dangerously towards the shore. With disaster imminent and heavy assured loss by nature's fury at sea, he remembered the Sikh Guru, Teg Bahadur, and prayed for a safe passage and pledged the 500 gold mohars (coins) belted around his waist. A miracle followed, the wind subsided and sea calmed down, the ship safely took refuge in the Gujarat port of Surat.

The northern region's seafarers pay homage to the seadogs, both men and women who work endlessly year after year in one of the most dangerous professions in the world. Be they fishermen in their small dhows or seasoned sailors on mighty battleships, cargo vessels or tankers, they are always prepared to face the numerous natural and man made rigors of the sea. The word 'seadog', synonymous with adventurous seamen and pirates, originated in the sixteenth century. However today it is oblivious of gender.

India's Maritime Doctrine

Today its time to revisit and ponder on India's maritime doctrine and India's maritime agenda. In the rapid changing geo-strategic environment with increased emphasis on maritime affairs, India desires to occupy its appropriate place in the global maritime arena. Towards achieving this, India launched a two pronged implementation of its maritime doctrine by the Indian Navy and maritime agenda by the Union Ministry of Shipping. It is focused to expand India's maritime footprint with the futuristic economic and security imperatives in mind. It also aims to stay aligned with growing influence of other nations in international affairs through their sea power along with China.

India released its maritime doctrine in 2004 and revised it in 2009 to maintain its temporal relevance. From the earlier inward looking coastal defence centric strategy it has shifted to an aggressive competitive strategy aimed to enhance its strategic presence, pursuing its littoral interests in the Clausewitzian sense -- stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Malacca Straits. The Indian Navy is flexing its muscles by regularly conducting numerous joint exercises with navies of other nations, making port calls in many nations and security patrolling in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). This has had the desired effect and is gradually becoming a force to reckon with.

Presence of the Indian Navy in conjunction with international forces has drastically reduced piracy off the coast of Somalia. As per the International Maritime Bureau, a body that monitors crime at sea, piracy attacks worldwide last year were down to 297 in contrast with 439 in 2011. The number of attacks off the Horn of Africa also tumbled from 236 in 2011 to 72 in 2012. The momentum at this stage is reaching a cusp of success in not only controlling piracy but possibly leading to its complete elimination. Presence of the naval forces is forcing the pirates to look for alternatives. The surrender of the feared Somali pirate 'Big Mouth' Mohamed Adbi Hassan, from what he calls 'gang activity' is a major success. He in turn has urged his colleagues to also quit. The romantic image of the pirates created by the media needs a relook as it is in stark contrast to reality. The fear of pirates, to live in inhuman conditions if captured, with the proverbial Sword of Damocles hanging over the captives head, induces angst, anxiety and depression in sailors. The maritime community has heaved a sigh of relief over the recent release of the Indian seafarers held in pirate captivity.

The Maritime Agenda

The Maritime Agenda-2020 released by the union shipping minister envisages to increase fleet strength under the Indian flag, upgrade existing ports and develop new ports, strengthen cargo handling capacity, develop and install security related real time Kinematic system in sensitive sectors and expedite marine human resources development. Simultaneously multiple intervention is planned to achieve other goals congruent with the economic growth. Top priority is for new ports. The 7,517 kms of Indian coastline has only 13 ports whereas the Hamburg Le Harve Range (in Europe) of 1,000 Kms has 11 ports. This comparison says it all.

Indian tonnage in global shipping which stood at 0.19 GRT at Independence, crossed 11 million GRT last year. The plan is to increase this from the present one per cent to five per cent of global tonnage, for which investments of Rs 1.2 lakh crore is earmarked. For infrastructure development of ports to cater for larger vessels and deeper drafts another Rs 3 Lakh crore is in the pipeline.

To fulfill its future energy and minerals requirement, India scouts for coal and oil in the mineral rich Africa and other destinations like Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar. As such there is a need for India to invest and own foreign assets for sourcing the same. To help meet this need and reinforce the nation's growing influence in international trade, the Indian Ports Limited (erstwhile Indian Ports Global) has been streamlined to be a special purpose vehicle for investment and become a dedicated company to compete with international giants like Dubai Port International, Singapore's PSA International and Maersk. Besides this, a host of Indian private sector companies led by the Tatas, Essar, Adani, JSW and Jindal Steel have already ventured onto foreign shores to set up ports.

Human Resource Development

As a part of the maritime agenda, human resource development contemplates to increase the global strength in the maritime industry of officers from the present five per cent to nine per cent and of seamen from 7.5 per cent to nine per cent. To achieve this, the National Policy on Skill Development has shifted from the traditional government institutionalised model of skill development and vocational training to one that lays emphasis on private training sector led initiative.

As such a number of marine training institutions have mushroomed in the country. It is important that these institutions take cognition of the diverse characteristics and valuation requirements in the international market, no longer can the training institutions focus only on the financial imperatives of the institutional profit margins. They have to shift gear from the present thrift dominant value for money to the future quality, immaterial of the cost. They have to deliver high quality training and create the marine manpower which strives to excel and compete world-wide following the adage, top bucks for top quality. The burden of responsibility is not only on the maritime institutions but equally, if not more, on the marine manpower to sustain this initiative. The institutions have to be dynamic. They must upgrade with the latest equipment and faculty to produce quality manpower.

Today the international community exercises its choice to take the best from the available pool of multi-ethnic resources from the major players like India, China and Philippines. The marine manpower on the other hand is responsible to train conscientiously and be knowledgeable of current and future technologies. They cannot remain buoyed on the past success of Indian mariners and have to take head on the pressure being generated by the far east marine force. Trends world-wide are indicating a eastward tilt in recruitment. The annual matrix mix of international employment will vividly give credence to institutional as well as mariners' commitment. Based on this the winnowing of perfidious institutions must be exercised through a regulator. With the current down turn in the world economy and the slow down in the world's major industrial nations dragging on, the subsequent pressures on the freight and charter rates, the subdued effect on movement of goods and the pressures on profit margins is making ship owners take a hard look at manpower.

The maritime doctrine and maritime agenda must be pursued vigorously. While the Indian Navy addresses the maritime security doctrine, the Union Shipping Ministry must make adequate budgetary allocation to expedite upgradation of existing ports with modern infrastructures, develop modern ports and remove hurdles to enable speedier growth of private shipping. National institutions like the Indian Marine Institution and National Maritime Foundation must play the role of strategic think tanks for the maritime sector. All these steps will give a clear signal that the nation is committed to meet its interests and take its rightful place by expanding its maritime footprint.