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Published on: Feb. 23, 2021, 11:54 a.m.
Indian Coast Guard widens its responsibilities
  • Indian Coast Guard ships dousing a raging fire on board VLCC, MT New Diamond, off Sri Lanka; Source: Indian Coast Guard

By Sarosh Bana. Executive Editor, Business India

The vulnerability of India’s coastal defences was shockingly exposed when 10 Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists arrived on Mumbai’s shores in 2008 in an Indian fishing trawler they had hijacked on the high seas en route from Pakistan. The heavily armed extremists docked amongst other trawlers and entered the bustling city undetected to carry out 12 coordinated shooting and bombing strikes over the next four days that killed as many as 165 people and wounded over 300.

Alarmed by the assault the government initiated plans to strengthen the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) and harmonise it with all other coastal defences. And, India’s Coast Guard has since metamorphosed into the world’s fourth largest, after those of the US, the UK and South Korea.

It celebrated its 45th Raising Day on 1 February by showcasing its formidable inventory of 170 surface platforms and 62 aircraft, compared to 74 and 44 in 2008. The number of ICG stations too has risen to 71, from 22 in 2008. In 2018, this smallest of India’s four military services was allocated Rs32,000 crore for an augmentation programme that aims at force levels of 200 ships and 110 aircraft by 2022. 

A coastal surveillance system (CSS) for the ICG will be operationalised this November, comprising a chain of static radars produced by state-run Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL). This coastal radar chain will serve 84 radar stations and 21 command and control centres that will provide near gap-free surveillance for tracking ships and fishing boats within a range of 15 nm in Indian waters.

Enormous area of operation

The ICG was founded as an interim force on 1 February 1977, with two small corvettes and five patrol boats transferred from the Navy, while its duties and functions were formalised in the Coast Guard Act enacted in 1978. Its Area of Responsibility (AoR) is vast, tasked as it is to defend a 7516.6 km coastline, an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 2.01 million km² and an additional 4.6 million km² of Search and Rescue Region (SRR). 

Krishnaswamy Natarajan, Director General, ICG, exults that, despite the restrictions imposed by Covid-19, his service maintained ceaseless vigil in the EEZ by deploying about 50 ships and 12 aircraft daily. This deterrence at sea and coordinated air surveillance last year alone enabled seizure of contraband worth Rs1,600 crore, apart from 10 foreign fishing boats with 80 crew members illegally operating in the Indian EEZ.

True to its Sanskrit motto, Vayam Rakshamah, meaning ‘We Protect’, the force also successfully escorted more than 6,000 fishing boats with about 40,000 fishermen to safe harbours during the 11 cyclonic storms last year, without any loss of life. It has, besides, apprehended around 14,000 ‘miscreants’ since inception, and saved on an average one life every second day at sea.

Natarajan says the ICG created maritime history last September when it averted a major maritime disaster by dousing a raging fire onboard the 333 m Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC), MT New Diamond, which was stranded 40 nm off Sri Lanka with 300,000 tonnes of crude in its holds. One crew member died in the engine room explosion and blaze, while a second was burnt and airlifted to a Sri Lankan hospital.

The ICG surface fleet is completely indigenous and comprises 18 Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), 41 Fast Patrol Vessels (FPVs) and 18 Air Cushion Vehicles (ACVs), all of varied classes, three Pollution Control Vessels (PCVs), 55 Interceptor Boats, 28 Interceptor Craft, four Auxiliary Barges and three Harbour Craft.

Six C295W tactical transport aircraft from Airbus Defence & Space will be joining the ICG Air Wing between 2021 and 2024. They will be new additions to the aviation fleet that for years has been served by Dornier 228-100 and 228-200 maritime patrol aircraft, Chetak (SE 3160 Alouette III) helicopters, and the 4.5-tonne Advanced Light Helicopters (ALHs), all manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, or HAL. Sixteen new generation ALH Mk IIIs will join the fleet by September, while a Request for Proposal (RPF) issued to four global vendors last June for 14 Twin Engine Heavy Helicopters (TEHH) will result in deliveries by 2025-26. 

Natarajan says a significant thrust area for the ICG has been in maritime co-operation with nations in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). As part of newer initiatives, his service conducts Maritime Law and Ops Courses at its units in India for officers and sailors from countries in the IOR, Africa and South East Asia. Its Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres similarly conduct Search and Rescue (SAR) communication exercises with 34 other Coast Guards for honing swift response in real emergency. The ICG will also be conducting specialised Marine Pollution Response courses on Oil Spill Preparedness and Response, SAR and Maritime Law for partner agencies from 15 countries.

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