The economic importance of the Indian Ocean came under the spotlight in Durban when the Australian High Commission jointly hosted a seminar on strengthening maritime security co-operation.
Australia is the current chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and this position saw it co-host the seminar with the Durban University of Technology (DUT). Speakers were the Australian High Commissioner to South Africa, Graeme Wilson; immediate past Chief of the SA Navy and now Armscor chairman, retired Vice Admiral Johannes Mudimu; and Dr Anil Sooklal, Deputy Director General, Asia and the Middle East at the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO).
Australia took over chairmanship of IORA last year and, Wilson said, is building on the work done by India as immediate past chair.
“Australia looks to the Indian Ocean as a region of growing strategic and economic importance. We share with all Indian Ocean littoral states, and key extra-regional countries, an interest in addressing ongoing challenges facing the region, including for example, sustainable economic growth and development.
“The stability and prosperity of the Indian Ocean region is increasingly important globally.
“The IORA membership represents a broad cross section of the world’s nations. While we are a diverse group, we have much in common, including a shared commitment to the peaceful, sustainable use of the Indian Ocean,” he said.
The 20 IORA member states are Australia, Bangladesh, Comoros, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Its six dialogue partners are China, Egypt, France, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
IORA is, according to the High Commissioner, the only Ministerial level grouping with a broad-based mandate spanning the Indian Ocean region.
It has six agreed priority areas – maritime safety and security, trade and investment facilitation, fisheries management, disaster risk management, academic and science and technology co-operation; and tourism and cultural exchanges.
During Australia’s term as chair IORA has had its first Ministerial forum on renewable energy. Other activities include a workshop on strategic stability in the Indian Ocean; a conference of the political economy of maritime Africa and an IORA senior officials meeting.
Mudimu said the South African experience of Indian Ocean maritime security challenges was it could not be seen as an end in itself.
Mudimu told the seminar: “As regards the South African experience of maritime security challenges in the Indian Ocean this is not a stand-alone concept but an enabler of human progress and economic prosperity”.
With colonialism a thing of the past, the way was now open for Indian Ocean states to jointly develop trading platforms and address “the real and pressing need” to ensure the safety and security of people.
The Indian Ocean, Mudimu said, has been described as a “wide common” because of its vastness and that it is the world’s third largest ocean. It constitutes about 20% of earth’s seas surface and traverses the Indian sub-continent, East Africa and the Southern Ocean.
He sees IORA as being one platform to effectively address at least three challenges faced by Indian Ocean states. These are climate change – “no longer an issue for scientific inquiry by often forgotten laboratory professors”; the plundering of marine resources, which is a threat to food security; and de-stabilisation of coastal communities and inland civil unrest spreading to the maritime domain through human trafficking, drug smuggling and threats against territorial integrity putting the brakes on continental progress.
“Maritime security forms a critical element of collective human security and is fundamentally linked to the development and economic prosperity of the African continent. We, as South Africans, see the maritime security agenda as having far broader implications than only the military domain addressing also existential survival.
“The challenges of maritime security can only be tackled if and when the littoral states acts together as a common force for the continent and the region,” he said.