Sources have confirmed the presence of three research vessels – “Xiang Yang Hong 01 and Xiang Yang Hong 03 have also been docked in the Colombo Port since last month. And, another survey vessel HAI CE 3301 is around the Strait of Malacca.”
The last few years have witnessed a rise in numbers of Chinese fishing as well as research vessels in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), almost ninety-degree east ridge and south-west Indian ridge. Sources have confirmed the presence of three research vessels – “Xiang Yang Hong 01 and Xiang Yang Hong 03 have also been docked in the Colombo Port since last month. And, another survey vessel HAI CE 3301 is around the Strait of Malacca.” Adding, “This survey vessel has been identified and is known to have in the past conducted extensive maritime surveys in the Western Pacific Ocean.”
As per the International Regulations, the research activities are allowed. However, the data which is generated has a dual-use—military or simply to monitor the water for the movement of the Indian Navy’s presence.
“The Indian Ocean Region with its large number of middle and low-income economies and large coastal populations, dependent for their sustenance on the sea, are especially vulnerable to the depredation of marine resources if allowed to go unchecked,” Indian Navy veteran Commodore Anil Jai Singh tells Financial Express Online.
The number of Chinese fishing vessels has been going up in the last few years, the fishing activities have been seen in the Central Arabian Sea and South-West Indian Ocean. Though there is no presence in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone, the trawlers are from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Also, near Somalia and near the Coast of Oman has been picked up based on the based on recordings of the Automatic Identification System (AIS) onboard trawlers.
What role does IFC-IOR play?
The Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) is fully equipped to keep a track of all the shipping and other vessels traversing in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and is in fact at it for the last couple of years.
According to the former spokesperson of the Indian Navy, Capt DK Sharma, “India has an agreement in place with almost 35 countries wherein information on White Shipping is exchanged in real-time basis so as to have a maritime picture of the Indian Ocean Region crystal clear.”
“The problem arises when IUU fishing trawlers enters this area and make forays into the EEZ of littorals for catching fish and other marine life. These illegal activities are increasing by the day and are a concern world over. Indian Navy is doing its best to check this menace of IUU,” Capt Sharma explains to Financial Express Online.
“Mission Based deployments by ships, regular sorties by Long and Medium range maritime surveillance aircraft (LRMR aircraft) are undertaken to keep an eye on this. Time has come now to take stringent actions against this menace and I am pretty sure that Govt of India has a plan to stop this in time,” says Capt Sharma.
Sharing his views, Commodore Anil Jai Singh, who is also Vice President Indian Maritime Foundation opines, “There was a time about three decades ago when it was said that the Indian Ocean is the only ocean where fish die of old age. Today the situation is quite the opposite with an alarming reduction in the numbers caused by excessive and poorly regulated fishing which is upsetting the ecological balance of the fragile marine eco-system. The need for a well-regulated regional architecture is more urgently required than ever before to ensure sustainable development of the maritime domain. It is also included in the regional commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). A lackadaisical approach, as prevails at present will lead to irreversible damage and besides hazarding lives and livelihoods, will become an existential security threat to the region.”
In his view, “The Indian Ocean region is faced with a multitude of traditional, non-traditional and transnational maritime threats from within and also from predatory extra-regional powers like China who think nothing of bullying their way into the sovereign waters of other nations and poach for resources. In fact, China’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean which was earlier restricted to naval platforms now also include research ships and fishing fleets.”
“In the last one year or so itself, Chinese research vessels have been a constant presence and though careful to stay on the high seas are gaining information and knowledge of these waters and the weaknesses which it will not hesitate to exploit. Large numbers of fishing vessels including large trawlers (reports indicate a number in excess of 450) have started entering the Indian Ocean for fishing. Thet are careful in operating on the periphery of the EEZs but often go dark by switching off their AIS transponders so that their movement cannot be tracked and probably make forays within the EEZ secure in the knowledge that these small countries do not have the wherewithal to keep a constant vigil on their waters which is then exploited to the fullest” explains the former submariner of the Indian Navy.
“This unprincipled and unethical Chinese behaviours, often bordering on criminality is getting bolder and has an expanding footprint as the demand for resources within the country increases,” says Commodore Singh.
How can India control this menace?
In his opinion, “The threat from IUU is amongst the most severe because it has a direct impact on the health and livelihood of large coastal populations and in some cases entire populations. If these populations are deprived of the nutritional benefits of seafood and other marine resources, it could lead to malnutrition and the attendant health issues making these populations vulnerable to external destabilising influences.”
“ As a net security provider in the Indian Ocean, India should take the lead in developing an inclusive regional security architecture and a robust regulatory framework to ensure adherence from the countries within while deterring such activity from predatory external powers,” Commodore Singh suggests.
In conclusion he says, “any moves by China, however innocuous they may seem must be monitored and nipped in the bud since these are all part of that country’s larger strategic design on the Indian Ocean and beyond.”