NEW DELHI: India is steadily stitching up “white shipping” pacts with different countries for reciprocal exchange of information on merchant vessels to bolster its maritime domain awareness (MDA) and tackle threats emanating from the sea.
“Of the 29 countries and three multi-national const three multi-national constructs identified for the purpose, white shipping agreements have already been inked with 10-11 till now. The main focus is on our primary area of geopolitical interest stretching from Africa’s east coast to beyond the Malacca Strait,” said a defence ministry source. India, sitting astride several busy shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as it does, needs to develop “a holistic operational picture” of the seas around it to ensure it can detect, track and tackle both conventional and unconventional threats.
But while Navy, Coast Guard and other agencies try to keep track of “grey” (foreign warships) and “black” (illegal) ships through warships, patrol aircraft, drones, satellites and the like, the number of “white” or commercial ships is simply too large to be effectively monitored. As per one estimate, there are over one lakh large merchant vessels around the globe. This is where the “white shipping” pacts come into play, with countries exchanging AIS (automatic identification system) transponder data and other information on cargo vessels to mutually enhance their MDA. “No one country can keep the vast areas on the high seas under surveillance…some of the gaps can be plugged through such pacts to share real-time positional information. It can help in detection of threats away from our shores, providing us with enough reaction time to neutralise them,” said the source. Apart from countries like Japan and the US, India has gone in for such white shipping pacts with countries astride what it considers “choke-points” in the Indian Ocean Region.
In November last year, for instance, India finalized the sharing of commercial shipping information with Singapore and Malaysia during PM Narendra Modi’s visit to these countries next to the Malacca Strait and other crucial shipping lanes.