India fortifies its island
defenses By Sudha Ramachandran
BANGALORE - The Indian Navy has
commissioned a new base, Indian Naval Ship (INS)
Dweeprakshak, in the Lakshadweep Islands. Located
at Kavaratti, the island chain's capital,
Dweeprakshak will provide the navy with a
permanent and more robust presence in waters that
are threatened by pirates.
archipelago (Lakshadweep means a hundred thousand
islands in Sanskrit) consists of 36 islands, 12
atolls, three reefs and five submerged banks that
are scattered in the
southern Arabian Sea, 200-400
kilometers off the southern Indian coastal state
Since 1980, the Indian Navy has
operated a detachment in the Lakshadweep Islands.
However, in December 2010 a Coast Guard district
headquarters was commissioned at Kavaratti and a
Coast Guard station was set up at Minicoy. A
second Coast Guard station was set up at Androth
Island in April this year.
at Lakshadweep have been scaled up now to a
full-fledged naval base.
is India's sixth naval base and the fourth
protecting the country's western flank. It is
India's second base in island territories, the
other being the base at the Andaman and Nicobar
Islands in the Bay of Bengal. Dweeprakshak will
come under the Southern Naval Command.
decision to beef up India's naval muscle at
Lakshadweep has its roots in security concerns in
the wake of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in
2008 and the rising threat of pirate attacks in
the Arabian Sea in recent years. Lakshadweep's
strategic significance stems not only from its
proximity to the Indian mainland but also, Nine
Degree Channel - a 200-kilometer wide stretch of
water through which much of the shipping between
West Asia and South East Asia transits runs to the
north of Minicoy, the southern-most of the
The magnitude of India's concern
over the safety of sea lanes can be gauged from
the fact that over 97% percent of India's trade by
volume and 75% by value is sea borne. The key role
that the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean play in
meeting its India's energy requirements is evident
from the fact that 67% of this comes from the
Persian Gulf and 17% from Africa.
Although the vulnerability of
India's coast to terrorist infiltration and
attacks became apparent in the early 1990s - the
huge quantity of explosives used in the serial
blasts in Mumbai in March 1993 was transported
through the sea route - it was only after the
terror attacks there in November 2008 that the
India establishment began acting to secure the
coasts - investigations revealed that
Lashkar-e-Toiba operatives from Pakistan entered
Mumbai undetected via the Arabian Sea. India has
now put in place a maritime defense plan to secure
its 7,516-km long coast line, including the island
territories of Laskhadweep.
infrastructure set up in Lakshadweep is essential
not only to safeguard the Indian mainland from
terrorist attacks but also to prevent terrorists
from taking sanctuary on the islands. Of
Lakshadweep's 36 islands, 26 are uninhabited. That
makes them vulnerable to misuse by terrorists for
sanctuary or as training bases. Such anxieties
have grown in the wake of the growing religious
extremism, reported jihadi activity and political
instability in the Maldives, which lie to the
south of Lakshadweep.
Besides, there is
the threat of piracy to Indian and other shipping
near India's waters. Anti-piracy operations by the
multi-national task force in the Gulf of Aden
created a "balloon effect", which resulted in
pirate attacks shifting further afield into the
middle of the Indian Ocean, even the seas near the
Indian coastline. There have been a series of
incidents in recent years involving piracy and
trespassing in the vicinity of the Lakshadweep
In March 2010, for instance,
pirates sought to hijack a Maltese ship 200
nautical miles off Lakshadweep Islands in India's
exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The attempt was
foiled by the Indian Navy.
Then in May,
eight Somali pirates were apprehended by the
Indian navy off the Lakshadweep Islands. In
November, two piracy attempts on container ships
were successfully thwarted; one of the incidents
happened just 150 nautical miles off Minicoy.
In December, a Bangladesh merchant ship
was hijacked by Somalian pirates some 70 nautical
miles from the Lakshadweep Islands. The same month
an Indian warship on patrol apprehended an Iranian
dhow with four Iranians and 15 Pakistanis on board
some 300 nautical miles west of Lakshadweep's
Bitra Island in India's EEZ. In November last
year, a "mysterious" Iranian ship MV Assa
that was reportedly armed was docked in the EEZ
near Lakshadweep for around 40 days.
Surveillance and patrolling of the seas
off the Lakshadweep Islands by the Indian Navy and
Coast Guard have resulted in hundreds of pirates
being apprehended over the past year. The setting
up of a full-fledged naval base at Lakshadweep
will substantially enhance India's capacity to
ward off threats from pirates and terrorists.
India has deployed a warship in the Gulf
of Aden as part of the multi-national anti-piracy
force. It has stationed two warships in the
central and eastern Arabian Sea "but in a flexible
formation for redeployment on an as required
basis", India Abroad News Service reported. Such
efforts will be further strengthened by the base
at Lakshadweep, which will have warships, aircraft
While the naval base will
enhance the infrastructure and capacity of the
coastal security network, the problems of India's
coastal security seem rather basic and cannot be
addressed by deploying more warships.
flaws in the coastal security network were made
visible rather dramatically during the turbulent
monsoon months last year when unmanned ships
slipped past radars and other high-tech "eyes" to
drift undetected in Indian waters and ran aground
at Mumbai's Juhu beach.
The first incident
occurred on 12 June 2011, when a 9,000-ton cargo
ship MV Wisdom that was headed to the Alang
shipbreaking yard in Gujarat broke tow, and then
drifted on to Juhu beach. Then on July 31, the
1,000-ton MV Pavit, which had been
abandoned by its crew a month earlier near Oman,
ran aground at Juhu beach. The 1,000-ton ship had
drifted for over a hundred hours in India's
territorial waters and slipped past a three-level
coastal security network involving the navy, the
coast guard and the coastal police before it crept
up on to the beach.
These were not small
fishing boats but massive vessels and that they
could enter not just Indian waters but also ride
right onto the coast undetected is a damning
indictment of the coastal security network.
While analysts have focussed on the poor
infrastructure in detailing the leaks in the
coastal security network, it is the lack of
communication and co-ordination between the navy,
the coast guard and the coastal police that lies
at the heart of its failures.
response to MV Pavit's advance onto the
Indian coast. It appears that the ship was first
sighted the previous night by a hotel manager
looking at the sea through his binoculars. He
alerted a police station at Juhu. A cop went to
the beach but couldn't see the vessel. He did not
pass on the information anyway to the Coast Guard.
The following morning, fishermen saw the
vessel lurching towards the coast. The informed
the police station, who again failed to alert the
coast guard. When the cops finally informed the
coast guard at around 8.30 am, the latter asked
for the information to be faxed but the police
station was not equipped with a fax machine. By
then, MV Pavit had run aground at Juhu
beach taking early morning joggers by surprise.
Very basic problems are causing the
coastal security network to leak. These are
problems that warships cannot fix.
According to Pushpita Das of the
Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and
Analyses, the "problem lies not in the measures
adopted but in the inadequate attention paid to
the functioning of the system at the ground level
where the actual action takes place".
little "coordination or information sharing"
taking place at present between the navy, the
coast guard and the coastal police "is largely
based on personal rapport between the concerned
officers", she observes, calling for the
institutionalization of this "rapport".
new naval base with warships and aircraft is a
fine idea for enhancing security in the seas. But
there is only so much it can do to secure the
Sudha Ramachandran is an
independent journalist/researcher based in
Bangalore. She can be reached at
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