There is a ‘doubt' that ‘other elements' are behind sea pirates, “so we have to be more careful” while dealing with piracy, Union Defence Minister A. K. Antony said yesterday, speaking to the press after commissioning a Coast Guard station at the Mincoy islands off Kerala’s coast. "We can neglect the seas only at our peril as the 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai showed," Antony said earlier. He urged the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard to “remain ever vigilant and not to lower their guard at any point of time."
Antony had earlier inaugurated a new Coast Guard district headquarters Kavaratti, Lakshadweep islands. Named ‘District headquarters No 12’, this will have operational control over ships, aircraft, hovercrafts, fast patrol vessels, interceptor boats, helicopters and fixed wing aircraft in the general area. Although the beefing up of maritime security post the Mumbai attacks is not complete, observers believe that the present moves come after a spate of pirate attacks close off the Indian coastline in recent months, and the interception of foreign nationals off Lakshadweep just a month or so ago.
The new stations will have advanced surveillance and communication systems, besides armaments and other sensing equipment that would enable the security forces to keep a twenty-four hour watch on the Arabian Sea. “The southernmost island in the Arabian Sea is of prime strategic importance. So this is an important step towards ensuring fast and effective response to any fast developing security challenge at sea,” Antony said, indicating that the present airport on the islands would be expanded and modernised soon to take larger aircraft.
Antony implied that there were more complex factors behind piracy. “That is why, in spite of all important nations joining hands against pirates in the Gulf of Aden, it is not coming down; in fact it is expanding,” he said. Nevertheless, he said that hundreds of threats had been successfully met after the Mumbai attacks. “India is on the radar of terrorists. We are under threat every day on a 24x7 basis. So we can't take rest. We have to be constantly on the vigil. Last year, 14 attempts were made by pirates near the Minicoy islands”, Antony said, pointing out that many of these islands were small and uninhabited.
Coast Guard Director General Vice-Admiral Chopra said the waters around the islands were vulnerable. “Proximity to other island nations, busy shipping lanes and wide geographical stretches make it an attractive destination. The fact that these islands could be used as safe havens by anti-national elements for launching attacks cannot be ruled out.” He added, “The eight degree channel between the Maldives and Minicoy witnesses traffic to the tune of 40 large ships a day, and here piracy is a major concern not only for the transiting vessels but also for the Indian security establishment.”
Antony revealed that three Coast Guard district headquarters and eight stations had been commissioned after the Mumbai attacks. “We are also setting up 38 static radars. These radar stations coming up across India will be commissioned by November 2011. The force levels of the Coast Guard are being doubled. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is manufacturing 12 Dornier aircraft for the force. We are strengthening the Coast Guard and the Navy and, along with them, the Coastal Police under various State governments,” he said, adding that a new Coast Guard station at Androth would have facilities to dock larger naval ships.