Naval leaders from around the world have called for increased cooperation in facing maritime security challenges in the Indian Ocean, at a naval security conference in Abu Dhabi.
“The challenges we face are too big, too widespread for any of us to tackle alone,” Commodore Bob Tarrant, director of the Britain’s Royal Navy staff, said at the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS). “The sheer size of the ocean hampers maritime surveillance and law enforcement, and often allows terrorist organisations or traffickers in drugs, arms and humans to operate without detection,” Tarrant said, according to French news agency AFP.
“When it comes to effective maritime security operations, the greater the number of ships and aircraft at your disposal, the better,” he said. “Navies working together, even if they are only loosely coordinated, can act as a force multiplier on each others’ behalf.”
Ransom-seeking Somali pirates are the major headache for navies monitoring the Gulf of Aden. Pirates now hold at least 25 ships, according to Ecoterra International, an environmental group that also monitors maritime activity, AFP reports. More than 400 seamen are also being held hostage — the highest number since a surge in Somali piracy in 2007.
Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, the commander of the Bahrain-based US Fifth Fleet, emphasised the importance of stability in the Indian Ocean, saying that “maritime security in this part of the world ensures global prosperity.” “No one nation can do this mission alone,” he added. “It takes all of our navies working together to ensure stability and security,” Gortney said, adding that “every nation brings their own strengths.”
Retired admiral Arun Prakash, India’s former Chief of Naval Staff, warned of a burgeoning naval arms race in the Indian Ocean region, and called for dialogue among countries of the area to head it off. Prakash noted that various countries in the area are expanding their naval forces, and that “if such actions cause apprehensions amongst their neighbours, it could well trigger an unbridled naval arms race in this region.”
“IONS should now take measures to initiate discourse and preempt the build-up of such regional tensions,” he said. United Arab Emirates naval chief, Brigadier Ibrahim Mohamed al-Musharrakh, said: “Factors of instability and violence are increasing” in the Indian Ocean region, AFP added. “So, it is imperative that all of us agree to maximise collective efforts,” he said. “It is to our vital interest to do so.”
IONS, which brings together representatives of navies that operate in the Indian Ocean, was first held in India in 2008. Delegations from 32 nations are attending this year’s three-day conference, which opened on Monday.