Chinese trawlers on the prowl in the Indian Ocean: IUU pose the greatest maritime threat

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December 08, 2020 6:22 PM

IUU has been rated as the highest maritime security threat, more serious than Piracy and Narcotic Smuggling, according to research undertaken by `Caught Red Handed project’.

Explaining the technology involved, Milind Kulshreshtha, says, “A high-precision, dual-frequency side-scan sonar system can obtain seabed information and use a dual-channel underwater tow-fish for the survey.Explaining the technology involved, Milind Kulshreshtha, says, “A high-precision, dual-frequency side-scan sonar system can obtain seabed information and use a dual-channel underwater tow-fish for the survey.

Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing is one of the gravest non-traditional global maritime security threats facing nations as there is an alarming depletion of fish in the sea. This concern has been flagged worldwide. “However, this is blatantly disregarded by China, which is a member of the UNSC and also a signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. China ranked as the worst offender on the IUU Index of 2019, has committed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the Paris Conference 2015, Indian Navy veteran Commodore Anil Singh tells Financial Express Online.

IUU has been rated as the highest maritime security threat, more serious than Piracy and Narcotic Smuggling, according to research undertaken by `Caught Red Handed project’.

`Gaps in Fisheries Regulation in High Seas of the Indian Ocean’ a report released by Trygg Matt Tracking (TMT), has stated that in just five years Squid fishing in one unregulated area grew by 830 per cent. According to the findings of the report, on earth, the Indian Ocean is home to some of the most important fisheries, accounting for over 14 per cent of global wild-caught fish. But, 30 per cent of assessed stocks in the region are already being fished beyond sustainable limits. The TMT report has also observed that unregulated fishing, which is not factored into the 30 per cent calculation is increasing in intensity, putting essential sources of revenue for millions of people and wider ecosystem health at risk.

What do these numbers mean?

One out of five fish sold in the market is caught illegally. This means a loss to the global economy because of IUU estimated to be touching around $ 23 billion as per an analysis undertaken by Global Fishing Watch.

Maritime Security & Chinese Trawlers

“In the South China Sea, Chinese trawlers are usually large enough that the sizes and types of vessels can be observed from the satellite imagery. These could be involved in actual fishing or assist in transhipment activities. However, the Chinese trawlers can always move into more direct harassment of Indian fishing vessels like manoeuvring dangerously close or physically ramming them, thereby, making it unsafe for Indian fishing boats to operate in open International waters. China can be using hundreds of fishing vessels as maritime militia to limit the Indian fishing boats,” Milind Kulshreshtha, C4I expert, explains to Financial Express Online.

Also Read | China continues aggression from IOR to Pacific Ocean; Quad to meet, discuss strategy to control rogue Chinese Navy

However, more than this the trawlers too can be deployed for covert ISR missions. A swarm of such vessels closer to Indian EEZ region can be a real nuisance for the Indian Navy.

On a regular basis, these trawlers can serve as a surveillance flotilla for the PLA, monitoring and reporting on the activities of Indian Navy.

How do these trawlers work? What are Side Scan Sonars

According to the C4I expert, “Legally the fishing trawlers are allowed to carry sonar — specialised sonar like the side-scan sonar for fishing purposes. And, the Chinese trawlers can have onboard Sonar usually — side-scan sonar. These Side-scan sonars are used to efficiently create an image of large areas of the seafloor and assists in mapping the seabed for creation of nautical charts and detection and identification of underwater objects and bathymetric features.”

Explaining the technology involved, Milind Kulshreshtha, says, “A high-precision, dual-frequency side-scan sonar system can obtain seabed information and use a dual-channel underwater tow-fish for the survey.

These trawlers can deploy hydrophones which can send alerts in near real-time to assist in naval activities. These are highly sophisticated hydrophones and use AI-based algorithms for sound event detection. A signal detected can be transmitted through a buoyancy-controlled antenna which moves to the surface and transmits the information via Chinese satellite. Such messages can then be sent to ISR Centres for the Chinese Navy to use in the Indo-Pacific and IOR regions.”

“Chinese fishing boats can be over the minimum specified average tonnage of a vessel size undertaking international voyages and required to legally carry the Automatic Identification System (AIS) transceivers as mandated by the IMO. AIS transponder broadcasts various identification information like vessels destination location, headings and other data about the oceangoing vessels. But the Trawlers engaged in the covert activities, or otherwise, are not likely to actually broadcast AIS signals at any given time. This suggests the obvious intent to hide its numbers and actions,” he says.

UW Vehicle for Explosives

And, these Chinese trawlers can comfortably carry weaponized underwater vehicles which are portable and trawler launched. “These Portable Underwater Vehicle (PUV) have the capability to carry and fix or fire explosives on a target in the high seas too. Due to the small size and the stealth, these PUVs are very difficult to detect. The portable underwater vehicle can be electrically propelled in the water using the control surfaces. These are small equipment measuring below 2m and half a meter wide weighing less than 100kgs. They have the capability to operate at 100 m with an endurance of four to five hours,” according to the C4I expert.

More about PUV

“The main control system for operating the PUV can be fitted on the Trawler, and a secondary control unit ashore or another afloat unit. It has an onboard high-quality Sonar and Electro-Optic camera. It also carries high-frequency sonar to support operations during poor visibilities. Other specialized equipment onboard are the echo sounder, doppler velocity log and explosive firing system. Using propellers and thrusters for optimized high hydrodynamic manoeuvrability and low stealth signature (magnet and acoustic),” Mr Kulshreshtha says.

Therefore, monitoring and limiting the operations of Chinese Trawlers closer to Indian regions of interest can be a nuisance which the Indian Navy can find itself as a challenge.

Also Read | Indian Navy’s challenges: Countering Chinese naval activities in the Indian Ocean Region

Growing Chinese presence in IOR

As has been reported by Financial Express Online, India has observed an increase in the number of Chinese research and fishing vessels which are operating in the Indian Ocean. This, according to sources is a matter of maritime security concern for the countries in IOR.

Also Read| Chinese juggernaut from IOR to the Pacific: ‘Time to check lest it reaches irreversible proportions’

These vessels are likely to be monitoring and surveying the seawater which would help them to improve their submarine capabilities and possible deep-sea mining.

The area where the numbers of Chinese Research Vessels has gone up is in “ninety-degree East Ridge and South-West Indian Ridge.’’ And, the number of Chinese Fishing Vessels has gone up in the high seas of IOR — in the Central Arabian Sea and South-West Indian Ocean.

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