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Foreign Secretary’s Keynote Address at the Inaugural Session of Second IORA Meeting of Experts for Maritime Safety & Security, New Delhi (November 7, 2017)

November 08, 2017

  • It gives me great pleasure to address you this morning. I extend a warm welcome to all IORA delegates to New Delhi. After an initial search for identity, IORA has today grown in substance and stature and carved a definitive place for itself. The recognition of IORA at the UN Ocean Conference last June is testimony to its growing salience in international fora. As Indian Ocean takes centre-stage in the 21st century, the onus is on us as equal stakeholders to collectively secure and nurture our oceanic space.
  • Maritime security and collaboration is central to our strategic thinking and policy. We consider IORA as an important instrument for promoting cooperation and ensuring stability in the region. Security challenges do not respect borders and need to be tackled through effective partnerships at the regional level. Those who live in this region have the principal responsibility for its peace, stability and prosperity. Today, the occasion calls for all of us to deliberate on the cooperative possibilities of this region rather than its competitive challenges that are admittedly there.
  • Throughout history, the Indian Ocean has been characterized by commercial flows, alongside migration of people, ideas and cultures. The Indian Ocean of today is, in that sense, not very different. It is one of the important trade and energy waterways in the world, and as Gen Deb noted, one carrying half the world’s container shipments, one-third of the bulk cargo traffic and two-thirds of the oil shipments. It is the medium that connects the producers of Gulf and Western Indian Ocean to the consumers of South and East Asia. Its demography - housing nearly 40% of the world’s population spread over 35 littoral states – speaks for itself. Notwithstanding the diversity, the challenges faced by the Indian Ocean rim countries are actually quite similar.
  • The IORA mechanism has a vital role to play in realizing our common vision for the region. It is a collective platform to highlight regional causes and concerns and the path for joint action to tackle challenges that we confront. Economic, trade and development issues are dominant in this agenda. Therefore, we have been supportive of the intensification and invigoration of IORA activities, from renewable energy and the blue economy to maritime safety and security.
  • Recognizing emerging geo-strategic challenges, IORA identified in 2011 "Maritime Safety and Security” as one of its six priority areas. This Indian initiative gained further traction with Australia and Indonesia assuming leadership roles subsequently as succeeding Chairs of IORA. Now under South Africa’s stewardship, we look forward to not only sustaining this momentum but also further deepening our engagement within IORA under a collective framework.
  • The focus on maritime safety and security as a priority area within the IORA framework has helped to promote a shared understanding of maritime issues, enhance regional maritime security, strengthen capabilities, establish cooperative mechanisms, develop inter-operability and provide speedy HADR responses.
  • Maritime safety and security is a multifaceted issue, especially with the growth of non-traditional threats. The scenario we confront is of maritime terrorism, smuggling, transnational crimes, drug-trafficking, illegal immigration, IUU fishing, gun-running, piracy, unregulated private maritime security companies and proliferation of sensitive items. It is further compounded by natural disasters, oil spills and effects of climate change, to which our region is highly prone. These threats and challenges impinge on the national interests of the IORA littorals. More importantly, these conspicuously highlight the acute and imperative need for protection of Sea Lines of Communication. Only through collective action can we successfully meet these challenges.
  • With sustained economic growth in the countries on the littoral of the Indian Ocean, this region has assumed greater importance in all realms. The growing need for raw materials, minerals and other natural resources including the energy to fuel development in the countries in the region, has enhanced the strategic significance of trade that traverses the Indian Ocean. The economic dimension and the security challenges in the IOR have together defined the naval and national strategies of nations within the region and beyond. Regional cooperation within the IOR will become increasingly important in order to ensure the safety and security of these vital trade routes, particularly the choke points, over the coming decades.
  • Maritime trade has become increasingly important for interconnected economies; India itself conducts nearly 40% of its trade with littoral nations along the Indian Ocean Rim. India has been working with like-minded countries to preserve the integrity, inviolability and security of maritime domain, much of which is a global commons. Recognising this growing importance of maritime trade in an increasingly globalised world, India supports freedom of navigation and over-flight, and unimpeded commerce, based on the principles of international law, particularly UNCLOS that serves as a constitution for the oceans. We also encourage resolution of territorial and maritime disputes through peaceful means in accordance with these universally recognized principles. We have always stood for exercising self-restraint in the conduct of activities that could complicate or escalate disputes affecting peace and stability. India’s own record in this regard is well known.
  • Maritime security is an important dimension of India’s bilateral relations with all Indian Ocean littoral states as well with almost all regional bodies that are either based in or border the Indian Ocean region- ranging from IORA, ARF, ADMM Plus to Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum and ReCAAP. Maintaining a favourable maritime environment in the Indian Ocean is a broad objective that requires coordination between India’s military, diplomatic and economic institutions. I am glad to note that this is increasingly the case. We have consequently made more progress in our maritime engagement in the region and its immediate areas beyond.
  • There has been growing interest in the conduct of joint exercises and patrols with the aim of enhancing interoperability within the region. The importance of coastal surveillance systems has also been recognized. India has initiated efforts to help our maritime neighbours set up their network and contribute to the shared development of Maritime Domain Awareness. Maritime connectivity is also today one of the key pillars of our development cooperation in Asia and Africa.
  • We have signed White Shipping Agreements with a number of countries, provided capacity building assistance and ensured capability enhancement by imparting training. In addition, our ships have undertaken coordinated patrolling with other countries and EEZ Surveillance on the request of our partners. India’s sense of responsibility will grow with its capabilities and the IOR should be assured that it can count on us.
  • The large number of piracy attempts off the East coast of Africa led to the emergence of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) mechanism of which India was a founder member. The Indian Navy has been undertaking anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden and the sea routes of the Indian Ocean since 2008.
  • Our persevering efforts to secure shipping traffic in the area from pirate attacks has contributed to the greater maritime safety in the region and enabled the reduction of the High Risk Area in December 2015. This in turn has reduced shipping insurance costs, thereby promoting mercantile traffic in Eastern and Central IOR.
  • India’s HADR and Search & Rescue efforts in the Indian Ocean have been increasingly in evidence. Building on its 2004 tsunami relief experience, India has since undertaken a wide range of HADR operations. Deployment of Indian Naval ships for major non-combatant evacuation operations in Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen have benefitted not just Indian citizens but nationals of several countries in the region and beyond. From bringing drinking water to the Maldives in the wake of a major water crisis, to providing relief supplies by air to Fiji and Sri Lanka, we have been the first to respond in times of distress in our immediate as well as extended neighbourhood.
  • We have been laying additional emphasis on developing greater synergies with the Navies in the region by investing sufficient expertise in consultation forums like the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS). India is a founding member of IONS, which currently has 35 countries.
  • Another effort to ensure the safety of navigation in the IOR has been the hydrographic support provided to chart the waters of the region. We have augmented this with a large training effort. Over the past three decades, more than 11,000 foreign personnel from over 40 countries have undergone training in India, many of whom are from the Indian Ocean littorals.
  • Our Prime Minister’s strategic vision articulated during a visit to Mauritius in March 2015 has spurred a qualitative transformation in India’s engagement with IORA in recent years. In his words, and I quote, India seeks a future for Indian Ocean that is outlined by the acronym ‘SAGAR’ – Security And Growth for All in the Region”. SAGAR in Hindi means the Ocean. This succinctly outlines our vision for the region – of advancing cooperation and using our capabilities for larger benefit. Prime Minister Modi’s vision has four key elements:

    · To safeguard our mainland and islands, defend our interests, ensure a safe secure and stable Indian Ocean, and make available our capabilities to others;

    · Deepen economic and security cooperation with our maritime neighbours and strengthen their capacities;

    · Envisage collective action and cooperation to advance peace and security and respond to emergencies; and

    · Seek a more integrated and cooperative future for the region that enhances sustainable development.
  • The growing appreciation and acceptance of the concept of Indo-Pacific further underlines the importance of IOR in global affairs. It should also serve as an encouragement to Indians themselves to think more strategically of IOR. The Pacific and the Atlantic both have an identity and a community. IORA should and is moving in that direction.
  • Relations with countries in the IOR and nurturing a climate of peace and stability are important cornerstones of India’s foreign policy. More so, given the growing economic relevance of countries in this region and the changing geo-political scenario. This places a great responsibility on all of us in IOR - to collaborate, to co-operate and to work together to tackle the maritime security challenges in the region, ranging from terrorism and WMD proliferation to territorial and maritime disputes. I am confident that this sense of responsibility will guide your deliberations.
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