Operation Samudra Rajan: Creating an Indian Ocean Protection Force
By Aditya Dash
A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guarantee of peace. __ Theodore Roosevelt
India does not have a modern fishing fleet. The world’s mechanised fishing fleet is over capitalised. This is the classic tragedy of the commons, where too many fishing boats chase fewer fish every year. This continues to have an adverse impact on coastal communities. They use catamarans and small fishing vessels. They suffer the most from rampant Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing.
India should take a lead in protecting the resources of this region. While we have a Navy and a Coast Guard and even Marine Police Forces of the State Government, there is a need for a protection force that is not only Pan India but should be credible enough in the Indian Ocean region.
What is needed is an international alliance which will secure the Indian Ocean region against IUU fishing, smuggling and piracy. China and Vietnam have maritime militias, which use fishing fleets as naval auxiliaries. While this gives a good Non-State Actor cover for different provocation tactics, it adds to the problem of overfishing and destroying the common resources of the world.
China has continued to use its fishing fleet, some of which are part of their official maritime militia, for operations in the South China Sea. Recently, there was news of presence of Chinese fishing fleet off the Galapagos islands of Ecuador. Pretty odd, when you consider the fact that due to the pandemic, fishing catch has improved, also at the same time a new programme has been initiated to curb food waste. Seeing China’s use of fishing fleet and their maritime militia, neighbouring country Vietnam also followed a similar path and developed their own maritime militia.
Imagine an international force committed to fighting overfishing, smuggling and piracy across the Indian Ocean region. And possibly having India, the United States and the ASEAN as members. With a bulk of the sailors being recruited from traditional fishing and seafaring communities, this will add to our State capacity so that we can implement environmental and international laws across the Indian Ocean Region.
The current system relies on voluntary enforcement. In case of non-compliance, market access is denied like in the case India’s wild caught marine products are not allowed for import to the US, since they are not satisfied with our protection measures for the Olive Ridley turtles.
This programme would engage in buying up and refurbishing or scrapping at least 50 per cent of India’s trawler fleet. The crew members would either be absorbed into the protection force after formal training, or recruit their children. Something along the lines of the Special Frontier Force, a covert commando unit of the Indian Army, consisting of members from the Tibetan refugee community. Coastal communities have the natural skill set to be employed in such maritime activities.
By collaborating with the US, ASEAN, GCC and EU, we can make this more effective and it truly becomes an Indian Ocean Protection Force. Such a presence will also crack down on various illegal activities that take place across the Indian Ocean Region. A global protection force or an initiative is better equipped to tackle international criminal organisations and their activities.
__ The author is an “Authority Member” of Marine Products Export Development Authority. He is also Managing Director of Ram’s Assorted Cold Storage Ltd, the seafood exports division of Suryo Group. He is passionate about aquaculture and writes frequently on it.