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Maritime Domain Awareness - A Call for Capacity Building

By Dr. Malini V. Shankar

The Webinar on ‘Maritime Security and Atmanirbha Bharat: A New Perspective based on the Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) Framework’ organized by the Maritime Research Centre brought forth perspectives from a wide band of experts from the maritime sector. Malini V Shankar of the Indian Maritime University shares her views.

Underwater Domain Awareness is a specialized and nascent aspect of Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), and nestled in the larger context of policies pertaining to the Blue Economy. There can be a dichotomous approach to UDA or MDA: (a) pertaining to conflict situations wherein maritime security and underwater security will be the mainstay, and (b) pertaining to development initiatives that feed upon the rich underwater resources. My focus in this article is on the development framework, with particular reference to the importance of capacity building.

The Blue Economy covers a very wide spectrum of activities that can exploit the rich natural resources of the seabed. The concept seeks to promote economic growth, social inclusion, and the preservation or improvement of livelihoods while at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability of the oceans and coastal areas. In alignment with this concept, and not limited to it, the Government of India has taken measures to promote the Blue Economy through initiatives such as Sagarmala Project, SAGAR (Security And Growth for All in the Region, 2015), as well as strengthening of collaborations with IORA and BIMSTEC nations. The success of any initiative or scheme is a function of the sensitization, awareness, commitment and capability of those who helm and steer the initiative. Three strands deserve attention:

1. Marine Ecology and Pollution

MARPOL is a well-established Convention of the IMO, and one that has attained a good degree of compliance internationally. In the Indian context, there is room for developing capabilities in global negotiation, especially in cases of pollution arising out of oil spills and similar incidents. Following the ship collision on the East Coast (near the Kamaraj Port), assiduous negotiations between stakeholders (local, national and international) resulted in appreciable compensation within the ambit of the Convention on Limited Liability. Negotiation skills need to be further strengthened in the interest of the country.

“Negotiation skills need to be further strengthened in the interest of the country.”

2. The position of influence at IMO, ILO

Strategic measures are needed to generate partnerships and collaborations and thereby create a sphere of influence in multilateral organizations. In my experience, there are countries – those with a small population, or those that are economically less developed – that are prepared to support India on policies of common interest. Identifying potential partners, influencing marginal supporters, generating interest in the proposals of India, communicating clearly and precisely, and elaborating when necessary, requires sustained effort at global platforms and at the national level (consistent cooperation between departments and ministries). Sans this, submissions sail through with minimal comprehension of the future consequences for the nation. An instance that I dare think of is the issue of Convention of Ballast Water and its implications on costs for Indian shipping. Other examples include the issue of floating armories in the Indian Ocean, or the implications of excessive documentation combined with reduced manning on the health and well-being of Indian seafarers.

“Identifying potential partners, influencing marginal supporters, generating interest in the proposals of India, communicating clearly and precisely, and elaborating when necessary, requires sustained effort at global platforms and at the national level.”

3. The Importance of Coastal Security

Incidents and collisions between merchant navy and fishing boats along the coast occur with regular frequency, more so along the west coast of India, which witnesses one of the most intense ship traffic in the region. The most striking incident is one that involved the Italian Marines and the local police. Efforts have been initiated by the Director General Shipping in terms of traffic separation, delineating routes for fishing boats and the merchant navy. Expectedly, there has been stiff resistance from coastal fishermen. Creating awareness among the local populace and sustained communication will help mitigate the tension. Simultaneously, it is essential to focus on institutional capacity building of the marine police. The personnel occupying the marine police stations have minimal to nil understanding of the laws of the sea, trained as they are on laws pertaining to land. The lack of mastery of ocean laws renders them susceptible to external influence and vested interests, and this in turn endangers marine security.

Conclusion

Capacity building is the cornerstone from the frame of reference of the academic world, and the Indian Maritime University (IMU) would be happy to engage in national capacity building partnerships. The IMU, which specializes in maritime studies, is keen to enlarge its training and research activities to include inter alia subjects such as marine ecology and maritime law.

The Potential of the Blue Economy – Increasing Long-term Benefits of the Sustainable Use of Marine Resources for Small Island Developing States and Coastal Least Developed Countries, World Bank, 2017

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About The Author

Dr. Malini V Shankar

VC, Indian Maritime University.