Indian Coast Guard
The Coast Guard was formed within the Indian Navy on 1 February 1977 to respond to smuggling and poaching by foreign vessels, as well as to contribute to marine pollution control, performing the same border control functions for the Navy as the Border Security Force does for the Army. With a total manpower of around 5000, it has 42 ships, 13 aircrafts and 9 helicopters. It has three Regional Headquarters: Bombay, Madras and Port Blair, ten other stations which are called Coast Guard District Headquarters, along with stations at Okha, Vadinar, Tuticorin and Mandappam.
Emergence of the Coast Guard in India on 01 February 1977 as a new service was the result of an awareness that had been growing for some time in the Government for the requirement to enforce National Laws in the waters under national jurisdiction and ensure safety of life and property at sea. It was also considered desirable that these law enforcement responsibilities should be undertaken by a service suitably equipped and modelled on the Coast Guards of advanced nations like USA, UK etc leaving the Navy to exercise the fleet for its wartime role.
A committee was, therefore, constituted in Sep 1974 with Mr KF Rustamji as its chairman to study the problem of seaborne smuggling and the question of setting up a Coast Guard type of organization. This committee recommended the setting up of a Coast Guard Service patterned on the Navy for general superintendence and policing of our seas in peace time under administrative cover of the Ministry of Defence. The Maritime Zones of India Act was passed on 25 Aug 1976. Under this Act, India claimed 2.01 million sq km of sea area in which she has the exclusive rights for exploration and exploitation of resources, both living and non-living at sea. Following this a Cabinet decision was taken by which an interim Coast Guard Organization came into being on 01 Feb 1977. The Coast Guard in its present shape was formally inaugurated on 18 Aug 1978 as an independent armed force of the union with the enactment of the Coast Guard Act 1978 by the Parliament with its motto as `VAYAM RAKSHAMAH; which means `WE PROTECT'.
While the Maritime Zones of India Act, 1981 empowered the ICG to enforce its provisions against vessels found engaged in unauthorised survey, data collection etc., prosecution of offenders could be launched only after obtaining the approval of the Ministry of External Affairs, which reportedly was the nodal Ministry for the Umbrella Act i.e. the Maritime Zones of India (MZI) Act, 1976. This was rather a cumbersome process and detrimental to national security. Some also found it strange that the provisions with respect to initiating action for any violation committed by Indian registered fishing vessels were enforced by the State Fisheries Department officials and not by the ICG which enforced Central Government Legislations. This compromised the purport of having the ICG as a force for securing coastal security.
Surveillance of the maritime domain is absolutely vital for ensuring an appropriate response to any developing situation relating to maritime safety or security. Effective surveillance by all available means is therefore, a sine qua non to be forewarned and forearmed. At present our surveillance is built around regular patrols undertaken by surface and air platforms of the designated areas. This also ensures ‘presence’ of units at sea, akin to a policeman ‘on the beat’, who act as a deterrent and can then provide ‘first response’ to an emergent situation, such as an act of piracy, oil-spill, medical evacuation from a merchant ship or to a fisherman fishing boat in distress.
India is bestowed with vast natural and economic resources in its 2.0 million sq km Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ), wherein the ICG maintains surveillance around the year. Whilst on surveillance in the EEZ, ships and aircraft establish two-way communication with offshore oil platforms, merchant ships and fishing boats, further emphasising its ‘on the beat’ philosophy and assuring them of ‘help at hand’.
Aerial surveillance by the ICG is carried out using shore-based aircraft and helicopters. These aerial platforms sanitize large areas of sea within a short time and are usually the first to respond to any situation at sea. Helicopters operating from the deck of ships also undertake surveillance. ICG aircraft and helicopters are equipped with sensors and weapons to monitor and combat unlawful activities at sea. Select ICG aircraft are also equipped with pollution surveillance gear to detect oil-spills at sea. Aircraft and helicopters can additionally spray oil-spill dispersants on major oil-spills before these threaten the coastline and vital assets. ICG aircraft have undertaken numerous pollution response operations, including one off Galle Harbour in response to a request by the Government of Sri Lanka.
ICG surface and air assets are deployed in Maldives EEZ to provide assistance to Maldives by undertaking surveillance in their EEZ as per the decision taken by the Government of India and Maldives.
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