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INDIAN COAST GUARD: A PROFILE

    The Indian Coast Guard was constituted as an armed force of the Union by an Act of Parliament. It was constituted to undertake the predominantly peace –time tasks subsequent to the extension of Indian sovereignty over the Exclusive Economic zone (EEZ) surrounding the Indian sub-continent. Exclusive economic rights of littoral states over various maritime zones became international law subsequent to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that came into force on November 16, 1994. It was ratified by India on June 29, 1995.

    The Coast Guard’s charter of duties was accordingly drawn up to safeguard India’s interests in its maritime zones. The duties and functions are amplified in the Coast Guard Act, 1978. They include, safety and protection of islands and offshore structures; protection and preservation of maritime environment and endangered species; prevention and control of pollution in the maritime zones; assistance to the Customs in anti-smuggling operations; assistance to fishermen in distress at sea; safeguarding life and property at sea; preventing poaching in Indian waters; assisting in ocean research-related activities; enforcing maritime law; and carrying out other duties as and when assigned by the Government of India without duplication of efforts.

    The Coast Guard, therefore, has the responsibility of monitoring, control and surveillance of over 2.01 million square kilometre fo India’s Exclusive Economic Zone. The maritime jurisdiction of India is expected to increase further with the efforts to delineate the entire continental shelf for seabed exploitation as well as when India ventures into mining in allocated seabed areas beyond its EEZ and continental shelf. This "terrain" where the Coast Guard has to operate also includes 1197 islands and a coastline of 7517 kilometres.

    Accordingly, the Coast Guard within its motto Vayam Rakshama (We Protect) has defined its mission statements - offshore security, marine environmental security, coastal security, marine safety, scientific assistance and national defence towards these objectives.

    The Director General at Coast Guard Headquarters, New Delhi exercises general superintendence, command, and control of the Force. It has three regional commands – at Mumbai, Chennai and Port Blair. There are 11 district commands-one in each coastal State on the mainland and two in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. There are four Coast Guard stations: Vadinar, Okha, Tuticorin and Mandapam under their respective district commands. The air wing of Coast Guard is operated from four stations and six air units.

    The Coast Guard surface and air force consists of 521 vessels and 34 aircraft respectively. Its personnel strength is 579 officers, 3834 enrolled personnel and 706 civilians. The service has chalked out its development plan for 1997-2002, which will see induction of more units and development facilities. Among them include pollution control vessel, hovercrafts, interceptors, advanced offshore vessels, long-range surveillance aircraft and shore support facilities.

    The Coast Guard carried out regular exercises and operations with the Navy and other armed forces to develop its joint operations capability and inter-operability factor as part of India’s national security strategy. Periodic reviews of these operations and exercises are carried out to enhance operational efficiency.

Role

    Since its inception the Coast Guard is actively pursuing its tasks and has made its deterrent presence felt in Indian waters among the international maritime community. It has responded to 538 distress calls and saved 945 lives at sea. As many as 646 vessels with 6777 crew belonging to 14 nationalities have been apprehended in anti-poaching operations. It has to its credit seizures worth Rs.260.32 crore with 78 vessels and 570 crew in anti-smuggling operations. It has been instrumental in containing 34 incidents of spill involving 74,000 tonnes of oil in Indian waters. In another operation going on since 1982 it provides assistance to the wildlife and fisheries authorities in protecting the Olive Ridley turtles in the world’s largest rookery along the Orissa coast.

    In a recent incident the Coast Guard has been instrumental in locating and apprehending a merchant ship MV Allondra Rainbow hijacked from South China Sea by pirates. It was the first instance of a hijacked ship being intercepted anywhere in the world. In another quick response action eight pirates were nabbed when they were attempting to get away with a merchant vessel at anchorage off Kochi. The Coast Guard won accolades from the International Maritime Organisation and the maritime community for its anti-piracy operations. Today it is being looked upon as a major partner in assistance to the other world maritime community in the Indian Ocean region.

    The operational matrix of the Coast Guard is based on operational costing and operational efficiency. The objective is to maximise efficiency at minimum cost of operations. In its task, it interacts with more than 10 Central Ministries/Departments and many central and state agencies and authorities. It has a complex interactive geometry unlike other armed forces that extends to safety, security, protection, assistance and defence. All its functions are based on the principle of jointness and inter-operability with other agencies.

    There is little doubt that the maritime scenario is fast changing all over the world with the development of technology and international and national legislation on exploitation of the oceans. Managing the oceans is not an easy task. It calls for knowledge, skill and commitment to action. If the experience of the last twenty years and the future perspective are any indication, in this millennium – India can look forward to clean and secure waters around it with the Coast Guard as its custodian.