Indian Coast Guard, Director General K Natarajan, in an interview with Ms Ruby Thinda Sharma, Editor-in-Chief, Sainik Samachar.
At the outset, let me congratulate you on taking over the reins as the 23rd Director General of the Indian Coast Guard. Your Vision Statement for the Service?
Thanks for the good wishes. On assuming the office, promulgated a 'Vision Statement' to provide a framework for requisite thrust towards strengthening Indian Coast Guard (ICG) Operations –our Raison d'Etre. Vision Statement ICG 2.0 has put impetus on progressing overall Op Expertise and Op Capacity for proficiently accomplishing mission requirements mitigating persistent and emerging challenges across vast AoR in co-ordination with the Indian Navy (IN) and other stakeholders. It will serve as an apex overarching guidance for Op Resourcing and Op Planning with continual validation of capabilities attained to undertake ICG operations that are focused upon maritime safety, coastal security and marine environment protection.
What will be your focus area and challenges you anticipate to safeguard our vast coastline?
Readiness and response posture to maritime hazards, vulnerabilities and threats affecting Maritime environment as well as safety of life and property at sea, besides law enforcement shall always be our utmost priority. There is nothing more satisfying than saving a life and we do that every second day at sea. We will not leave any stone unturned to ensure safety of mariners and live up to our motto "We Protect". With respect to the second part of your question, there are wide challenges in our Area of Responsibility (AoR), testing our capabilities, include unconventional seaborne security threats like maritime terrorism, piracy and armed robbery, smuggling, trafficking of drugs, arms, ammunition, presence of floating armoury, dubious vessels proceeding to scrapping yard, Illegal emigration originated from mainland and many other asymmetric threats emanating from sea.
How do you foresee your operations to overcome the ever-increasing maritime challenges?
Our operations are governed by two components – Prevention and Measured Response. We are confident that orienting a thrust towards Prevention shall mitigate vulnerability to threats and bolster resiliency during contingencies. Whereas Measured Response shall draw upon efficient command and control chain in quelling crisis situations. Prevention and Response operations are interdependent and collectively contribute to courses of action in countering enduring and emerging threats towards attaining desired ends. Proficiency, Procedures and Actionable Intelligence are emphasised as critical ways of ICG operations. The tenets that shall remain in forefront towards effective discharge of our Charter are Purposefulness, Progressiveness and Proactiveness. Deployment ready force, unity of effort as well as innovative deterrent approach are imperative to meet ICG mission requirements. We will continually strengthen our fleet, provide support to other Maritime security agencies and reinforce International, National, State and Local partnerships with stakeholders, while maintaining dynamic and transparent interactions with techno-logistics associates in the public-private sector. We will leverage National Legislations and provisions flowing from International Protocols, Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs), Bilateral and Multilateral Agreements/Treaties, that instil unity of effort, in planning and executing maritime safety, coastal security and environmental protection operations.
Coastal Security has been one of the important tasks allocated to Coast Guard. What steps have been taken to put tougher security apparatus all along the Coastal Regions?
Post 26/11 incident, ICG has been assigned additional responsibility of Coastal Security in Territorial waters. ICG, in co-ordination with all stakeholders, promulgated Standard Operating Procedures (SoP) for effective discharge of Coastal Security charter. ICG has established 46 RADAR Stations along the mainland and Island as part of Coastal Surveillance Network (CSN) phase-I. The Phase II of CSN envisages additional 38 RADAR sites, integration of 13 Vessel Traffic Management System (VTMS) sites and 4 Mobile Surveillance System to have near gap-free electronic surveillance mechanism. Our ships, aircraft and hovercraft are maintaining round-the-clock surveillance,within EEZ, along the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) and in sensitive and vulnerable areas. Further, effective coordination is maintained with Intelligence and other security agencies to ensure the security in our AoR. The threat matrix is regularly evaluated with Coastal security stakeholders and accordingly these are dovetailed in deployments. Since 2009, a total of 187 Coastal Security Exercise and 395 Coastal Security Operations have been conducted. The lessons learnt along with the recommendations are being communicated to all stakeholders and concerned ministries post completion of the exercises. These observations are addressed in the subsequent exercises to develop a robust Coastal security mechanism to prevent ingress of Anti National Elements (ANEs).
Any new challenges you faced since taking over the helm?
The new challenge that we have been facing in the recent past is the drastic increase in concurrent operations. Since occupying the chair on July 1, 2019, we have been keeping busy by varied operations; testing our limits, Op capability and the very reason of our existence. During the recent Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) Op 'Sahayata' for flood affected Coastal States of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala, a total of 4418 persons were evacuated by the ICG teams to safer locations. We rescued 29 personnel from Offshore Supply Vessel (OSV) Coastal Jaguar, which was on Fire off Visakhapatnam and firefighting of MT Genessa in Gulf of Kutch. Our Ships and Aircraft were extensively deployed for SAR of overdue 19 Fishing Boats with 96 Fishermen onboard off Porbandar and Navibandar. Our assets were also engaged towards Interception and Investigation of suspected unknown Vessel off Veraval and joint successful anti-smuggling Op with Sri Lanka (SL) Navy and SL Coast Guard in apprehending drug running vessel. Thus, the months of July and August 2019 have been demanding, challenging and satisfying as well. There is hardly a day for ICG without any Operation at sea, which is testimony to the fact that"We save a life every second day".
How much jointness in Operations you foresee with other Armed Forces?
You asking me this question by itself is a testimony of Jointness amongst Armed forces. Well, the jointness in ICG Operations exists from time immemorial. The dynamic nature of the maritime environment and the changing roles of Coast Guard from time to time have necessitated the need to work in tandem with various stakeholders, including Coastal Marine Police. Thus, it will not be an understatement that Joint Operations is the second nature of Coast Guard. As you are aware that both ICG and Indian Navy(IN) operate in the same domain, and have overlapping responsibilities with regard to the Maritime and Offshore Security, till the limits of EEZ. The Indian Coast Guard, since inception in 1978 undertakes the mandated charter of protecting India's Maritime interest through jointmanship with the Indian Navy, an aspect which other countries are trying to emulate for dealing with the ever-increasing maritime challenges at sea during peace-time. The ICG-IN synergy is imperative towards National maritime security. ICG participates in all joint exercises and extended EEZ surveillance with the Indian Navy. IN and IAF participates in National level Maritime Search and Rescue Exercise (SAREX), National level pollution response exercise and Coastal security exercises, conducted by ICG every year. This jointness has improved synergy, enabling ICG preparedness for smooth transition from index operations to high intensity joint operations. Another important facet in jointness is the training aspect of our personnel from ab-initio to professional courses at Indian Navy Schools or aboard Indian Coast Guard Ship (ICGS Sarathi) with Naval Training Squadron-1 (TS-1), which allow us the opportunities to be mutually supportive and optimize our joint efforts without duplication of efforts.
What is your take on evolving a Regional co-operation to achieve safer and cleaner seas for Mariners?
To answer this question, let me first draw your attention towards "Ocean Peacekeeping". It is a new maritime cooperative security concept drawing the attention of Coastal Nations. Ocean Peacekeeping fundamentally concerns the activities which are necessary to execute the obligations stipulated in various IMO conventions and at the same time enforcing our maritime laws in a coordinated manner, based on agreements and arrangements with the objectives of maintaining the good maritime order and preventing peacetime destabilisations of maritime safety and security at sea. The activities to cover the gap between the coastal policing and military presence would be of significant importance for the future maritime forces. The Coast Guards world over are preparing themselves to meet the new challenges through co-ordinated ocean peacekeeping process – a step towards Maritime Harmony and we are no exception. We execute ocean peacekeeping roles through bilateral, multilateral and Regional Co-operation measures. The MoU for co-operation on maritime issues have been signed with Coast Guard agencies of Bangladesh, Pakistan, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Oman. We have re-configured our approach in operationalising the provisions of these MoUs by invoking the Information Sharing Mechanism for co-ordinated response. We undertake diplomatic stance for achieving the common objectives with other Coast Guards and assist them in training and capacity building. The changed face of conflict at sea today requires us to be perceptive, adaptive, to address simultaneously the immediate as well as the root causes of low intensity conflict. It requires a deeper commitment of cooperation and true multilateralism than humanity has ever achieved before.
You mentioned about Information Sharing Mechanism. Has this new approach been beneficial?
We have successfully coordinated rescue of 114 Indian fishing boats in July 19 with Bangladesh Coast Guard (BCG), who got stranded due to bad weather. In addition, safety, assistance and subsequent repatriation of another 32 Indian Fishing boats with 516 fishermen, who took shelter in Paira port in Bangladesh, was effectively coordinated with BCG. We actively launched a coordinated response with Sri Lanka Coast Guard against an attempt of drug trafficking by a suspect boat. With position updates, obtained through our aircraft deployed in area, being regularly shared, the suspect boat was apprehended with Narcotics by the Sri Lanka Coast Guard. These incidents highlight the success of real time Information Sharing and the collaborative framework steered by the ICG with its counterparts.
Sir, anything else you would like to convey through this interview?
Maritime Security and economic prosperity of our Nation are inextricably linked to maritime domain. From the developments in technology and communication equipment enabling networked syndicates involved in subversive activities, drug trafficking and other illicit actions to plan, coordinate, and perpetrate their schemes with increased mobility and anonymity to the growing maritime trade, the ICG is deemed to face a convergence of risks that demand considered actions and commitment of resources. I am confident that with the support from all stakeholders, we will address these issues and pull together to be even more effective in our Charter than ever before by adhering to the underlying principles of "Preventive and Measured Response".