Govt to monitor shipping in South China Sea

NEW DELHI: The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) has okayed a plan to virtually keep an eye on shipping in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, an act that is clearly aimed at monitoring the Chinese shipping of oil and gas, without saying so.

Ajay Banerjee

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 10

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) has okayed a plan to virtually keep an eye on shipping in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, an act that is clearly aimed at monitoring the Chinese shipping of oil and gas, without saying so.

The CCS, which is headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has approved a plan to collate shipping information from 24 countries located as far and wide as those on African East Coast that is the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea, where five countries are locked in bitter territorial dispute with China. Beijing is not one of the countries on the 24-country grouping.

Navy Chief Admiral Robin Dhowan in an interview to The Tribune said: “We have the CCS approval to go ahead for collating white shipping (non-military shipping) information. We will go country by country to have greater transparency of what all (ships) passes through these waters.”

Sources said ground-based, airborne and space-based monitoring systems in these countries will pick up information about all ships but will share only the data of merchant shipping.

On being asked if China has protested the new 24-country maritime information sharing, the Admiral said: “I don’t think there is any reason for that. It’s not an alliance. It is not against any country nor is it a grouping of countries.”

“We look at our maritime interests. We are only working where our interest and where the information is of some use to us. The IOR (Indian Ocean Region) is in the primary area of interest,” the Admiral said while terming the Indian Ocean as the “centre of gravity” for the maritime world. Around 66 per cent of all oil, 50 per cent of all container traffic and 33 per cent of all cargo traffic passes through these waters.

Questioned if the 24-country information sharing was aimed at controlling the “mouth” of the strategically vital Straits Mallaca (which connects the Indian Ocean with the South China and the Pacific Ocean beyond), the Admiral said: “Mallaca is an important choke point. It is related to freedom of navigation and these are global commons to ensure free trade of oil and trade. 80 per cent of trade and oil in the IOR is extra regional. Any disruption of oil or trade will impact the global economy.”

An assessment by the US Energy Information Administration says nearly 15.2 million barrels of crude oil are shipped across the Mallaca everyday, of which China is the destination for 4.2 million barrels. Another 4.2 trillion cubic feet of liquefied natural gas passes through the Strait every year, of which 54 per cent is headed to Japan.

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