By Shamindra Ferdinando
India is strongly pushing for an international regulatory mechanism to stem the proliferation of private maritime security companies operating in the Indian Ocean.
The regional power, India, alleged that they had now assumed a quasi‚Äìmilitary appearance and therefore could cause adverse security implications. Indian Navy chief, Admiral D. K. Joshi emphasized urgent measures to curtail the activities of private security firms, while warning of the possibility of terrorists exploiting them for their advantage.
Admiral Joshi was addressing the inaugural session of the fourth edition of the Galle Dialogue-2013 on Monday at the Light House hotel, Galle.
India is among 35 countries, including five permanent members of the UN Security Council, attending the two-day conference. Among the other participants are Israel and Pakistan.
The Indian naval veteran warned that for want of internationally acceptable rules of engagement, the lives of fishermen could be at risk, therefore there was a pressing need for a regulatory mechanism.
Expressing serious concern over private armed guards, with or without uniform, on-board ships crossing the Indian Ocean, Admiral Joshi cited the recent seizure of a Sierra Leone flagged ship, MV Seaman Guard Ohio, within Indian territorial waters, carrying 25 armed personnel to highlight the need to regulate the private maritime security industry.
Admiral Joshi said: “The master was unable to produce authorisation to carry 34 automatic arms and ammunition found onboard the vessel and clarify other details. Lack of any provision or regulation to deal with such vessels or armed personnel is hampering any legal action by the state.”
Commenting on the pirates shifting the base of their operations from South East Asia to Somalia, Admiral Joshi detailed the operations undertaken by the Indian navy to tackle pirates. Recollecting the sinking of what he called four mother ships operated by pirates in separate encounters, Admiral Joshi pointed out that as there hadn‚Äôt been any incidents in the recent past, countries could change the mode of operations adopted in response to the threat emanating from Somalia. Admiral Joshi basically argued for a gradual decrease in operations undertaken by private maritime security organizations in accordance with the now diminished threat.
The Indian navy chief admitted that piracy remained a threat though the international community was able to contain it to a larger extent.
Admiral Joshi alleged that there were scores of vessels operating as floating armouries in the North Indian Ocean outside the jurisdiction of any costal state. “There are reports that even uniformed combatants from some countries are employed in some cases on these privately operated floating armouries.”
Commenting on the recent massacre of men, women and children at an up-market shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Admiral Joshi asserted that the attack was believed to have its roots in piracy.
Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa attributed the decrease in operations undertaken by pirates to the presence of private security teams onboard merchant vessels. Delivering the keynote address on the opening day, Defence Secretary Rajapaksa pointed out that ship owners as well as insurance underwriters insisted on the deployment of private security teams to thwart possible attacks.
The Defence Secretary explained the leading role played by Sri Lanka in providing such security services. The war veteran said that Sri Lanka had established a maritime division in a fully state-owned security company to provide arms and ammunition to those deployed onboard merchant vessels before launching a public-private partnership to provide onboard security teams. The Defence Secretary said that among those assigned for this particular task were ex-navy personnel with considerable experience in fighting Sea Tigers.