An Indian sail to navigate the maritime environment

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Source: The Hindu

Relevance: On maritime security

Synopsis: India’s leadership in the debate on maritime security has boosted its standing as a key player in the shared commons.


A high level open debate was conducted by the UN Security Council (UNSC) on 9th August 2021. Its theme was “Enhancing Maritime Security: A Case For International Cooperation”.

Being the current chairman of UNSC, India urged the Global community to focus on maritime security and develop a common framework to deal with it. India’s emphasis is rooted in its geography and ancient maritime traditions. 

Maritime Traditions
  • India has a long coastline and large island chains spread-eagled across the Indian Ocean. It has a natural seaward orientation, with key sea lanes of communication coursing through its surrounding seas.
  • India has ancient maritime traditions as well. In the 15th century, Vasco de Gama was piloted to the west coast of India from Zanzibar by a Gujarati seaman. 
    • Long before that, India’s ancient mariners were trading with the old world. India’s maritime trade existed with Mesopotamia civilization 4,500 years ago. Further, Lothal was a key maritime centre of the Indus Valley civilization.
    • Buddhism and Hinduism spread to South-east Asia by the maritime route. Even Islam took the maritime route from India to South-east Asia.

Such traditions have ensured that India acts as a responsible maritime power. 

A responsible Maritime Power
  • India has always called for peaceful settlement of maritime disputes. This idea is rooted in India’s values of peace and non-violence. 
    • For instance, India gracefully accepted the award by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2014 concerning the Indo-Bangladesh Maritime dispute. This helped the country to forge closer ties with Bangladesh.
  • The country has promoted mutual cooperation among the maritime neighbours and extended a helping hand in times of distress.
    • India’s role as ‘first responder’ in the Indian Ocean, whether in acting against piracy or providing relief after the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, is well- documented. 
    • The Indian Air Force airlifted 30 tonnes of relief material to Mauritius in August 2020 to contain an oil spill that threatened to engulf the island nation’s pristine coast.
    • India now has white shipping agreements with several countries (It is an agreement related to the exchange agreement between the navies of countries on the commercial ships on each others’ oceanic territories)
    • The Indian Navy’s state-of-the-art Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) based in Gurugram hosts officers from the United States, Japan, France, Australia and the United Kingdom.
Way Forward

The countries should come forward and work in the spirit of the 5 principles given by the Indian PM in the UNSC meeting.

Further, they should understand that Freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce are key to the spread of prosperity. The critical supply chains depend on the concept of mare liberum (open seas) and not mare clausum (closed seas). For instance, the blockage in the Suez Canal earlier this year interrupted the flow of trade worth billions of dollars.

Terms to know

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