Tribune News Service
New Delhi, April 9
Aiming to get a bigger toe-hold on the economically and strategically vital Straits of Malacca, India is on the verge of joining four other countries which collectively patrol the narrow straits — a water body between two land masses — east of its own Andaman Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal.
The Straits of Malacca are so important that almost half of the world’s total annual seaborne trade by volume and 70 per cent of oil imports of China, South Korea and Japan pass through this narrow water body that connects the Indian Ocean with the Pacific.
In numbers about 1.10 lakh merchant ships, oil and gas cargos sail annually through the straits. Around 40 per cent of India-bound cargo sails through these.
The existing Malacca Straits Patrol (MSP) framework has four partners — Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore (the water body is through their territory) and Thailand, which is just outside the western edge of the straits.
The Andaman Nicobar islands are also around 100 km from the western edge. New Delhi’s argument is that it should be part of the MSP since it has the responsibility to secure the sea lane of communication (SLOC) west of the Malacca. All ships passing through Malacca pass south of the Andaman Islands. At present, Indian Navy uses its fleet of reconnaissance planes over the Malacca and has its warships patrolling the SLOC west of Malacca. It separately has an agreement with these four countries to share data of merchant shipping, but that is all.
Sources confirmed to The Tribune that three of the four countries are okay with India joining the MSP and the fourth may come around soon to promote cooperation on seas.
Joining the MSP will mean information of any movement will be with New Delhi in real time. The MSP includes a Sea Patrol, it has an ‘Eyes-in-the-Sky’ programme that is a combined maritime air patrol, as well as the Intelligence Exchange Group. The MSP has a real-time information-sharing on suspicious contacts or incidents. The MSP is coordinated by high-end technology that keeps the flow of trade going and also keeps an eye on military platforms. The MSP has its own Monitoring and Action Agencies (MAAs). The MSP started in 2004.
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