New Delhi: Unregulated floating private armouries carrying combatants of certain countries are a matter of concern and can have serious security implications for the country including infiltration of terrorists that can lead to 26/11-type attacks, Navy Chief Admiral D.K. Joshi warned on Tuesday.
Addressing the annual Navy Day press conference, he also sought a 'reversal' of high risk areas for merchant ships plying in the piracy prone zones, saying such an extension in these zones has resulted in incidents such as the killing of four Indian fishermen by Italian marines near Kerala coast.
"Floating armoury is a matter of very serious concern. This is entirely unregulated... This has very serious security implications for us including the infiltration of terrorists. "...If there are unregulated arms and ammunition on a vessel, the existence of weapons is not known as also where guards are transferring them and this could lead to such a situation on anybody's soil," Joshi said when asked if unregulated floating armouries can lead to a 26/11 attack.
The Navy Chief was talking on the issue against the backdrop of seizure of the American floating armoury MV Seaman Guard Ohio off the coast of Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu.
He said the Government has also received reports about the presence of "combatants from some countries who on a temporary basis take up these employments and become private armed guards."
Asked if he meant that these combatants are from Pakistan, Joshi skirted a direct response, saying, "I am referring to what I am referring to." He said over the years, these armouries providing escort to the merchant vessels plying in piracy prone areas have become a "loose-knit structure" and the "unregulated manner these ships are operating, there is no track of which ship is coming and what guards it has, what arms does it have and where they are going."
He said like the merchant vessels operating under the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) framework, these floating armouries have to be brought under the regulation and all the littoral states must be aware of the identity of such ships, the number of weapons and guards present on them.
On the issue of the high risk areas for operating merchant ships, the Navy chief said currently this zone "hugs the Indian west coast" and instead of passing close to Southern Sri Lanka, cargo vessels were passing from close to India.
Observing that this was a matter of concern for the Navy, he said there is no reason for these vessels to be in our area and they are spoiling our picture.
"Now with that, there remains the mindset that this is high risk area and it is prone to piracy and the kind of incident that you mentioned happens because of that because there is a higher level of concern whereas in last two years, there has been no piracy in 450 nautical miles of our coast," Joshi said.
He was asked if the extension of high risk areas perceived prone to piracy, close to Indian coast was resulting in incidents such as the killing of Indian fishermen by Italian marines.
Dwelling on other problems caused by the extended high risk areas, the Navy chief said, "because of high risk areas, the insurance premium is high and we are ending up paying much more."
Joshi said India has raised the issue and there was a need for support from more littoral states as India was the only country so far taking up the issue.
"I have raised this issue with leadership in Sri Lanka. I think we need support of some more littoral states. So far, we have been the only one demanding the reversal of it," he said.
The Navy Chief said after few incidents of piracy close to Lakshadweep Island territories, four pirate ships were sunk there and for the last two years, no such incident has happened in the Indian waters....