Trilateral Indian Ocean security grouping set to expand

New Delhi, March 6: A trilateral Indian Ocean Region (IOR) security grouping has “achieved a great deal” in practical cooperation and is set to expand with the addition of two more island nations, it was announced here Thursday.

“We have achieved a great deal in terms of practical cooperation between our navies and coast guards. We have formulated concrete responses to situations,” National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon told reporters here after chairing the third NSA-level Trilateral Meeting on Maritime Security Cooperation between the Maldives, Sri Lanka and India.

“We had invited Mauritius and the Seychelles to attend as observers. Both said they were interested and would like to join,” Menon added.

The next meeting of the renamed grouping would be held in Mauritius “on a date to be decided through diplomatic channels”, an external affairs ministry release said.

“The ideal is to pool our capabilities. We see this (grouping) as a means of solid cooperation. There are no grand declarations but real work on the ground… on the ocean,” Menon noted.

Some 100,000 vessels pass through the Indian Ocean Region every year, as do 66 percent of the world’s oil tankers, 33 percent of container traffic and 33 percent of bulk traffic.

Piracy, once a major concern particularly in the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa, had largely been contained due to the concerted efforts of a number of countries but the “issues on the ground” in the latter area still needed to be addressed, Menon noted.

“It’s not an issue a single country can deal with,” he added.

During the meeting “the participants reviewed and expressed satisfaction over the progress in the implementation of various activities in the identified areas. They also discussed new areas of cooperation including hydrography; training in visit, board, search and seizure operations; training on board Indian sail training ships; exchanges between think tanks; and joint participation in adventure activities”, the statement said.

The participants also directed the working and technical group “to meet at an early date to accelerate the implementation of joint activities and work out a programme of cooperation in the new areas”, the statement added.

The Maldivian delegation at the meeting was led by Col. (retd) Mohamed Nazim, the minister of defence and national security; and the Sri Lankan delegation by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, secretary in the ministries of defence and urban development.

Motichand Seebah, permanent secretary in the Mauritian Prime Minister’s Office and Maurice Loustau-Lalanne, principal secretary in the Seychelles foreign ministry, represented their countries.

The first trilateral meeting was held in the Maldives in October 2011.

At the second meeting in Colombo in July 2013, the three countries agreed on a roadmap for cooperation in three areas of maritime security including:

Initiatives to enhance Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) through access to systems run under the aegis of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) such as Long- Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) services and sharing of Automatic Identification System (AIS) data;

Training and capacity-building initiatives in areas of MDA, Search and Rescue and Oil Pollution Response; and

Joint activities, including trilateral exercises, maintaining lines of communication on illegal maritime activities, formulation of marine oil pollution response contingency plans and cooperation in legal and policy issues related to piracy.

IANS