Bangalore: India is setting up a satellite-based information system to identify and track ships that would bolster maritime security along the country’s coast and lead to faster search and rescue of distressed vessels.
This will bring India in line with latest guidelines of the Safety of Life at Sea (Solas) convention administered by global regulator International Maritime Organization (IMO).
India, a signatory to Solas, expects the tracking system—long-range identification and tracking of ships, or LITS—to be in place by the first week of November. IMO has asked member countries to activate LITS by December this year.
“The aim is to eliminate chances of terrorism by preventing terrorism-related materials and contraband cargo from coming into our country through ships,” says P.H. Krishnan, the country’s deputy director general of shipping. “The law mandates us to stop such vessels from entering our territorial waters.”
Antrix Corp., the commercial arm of the country’s space agency Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), is implementing the system for the directorate general of shipping. LITS would be integrated with future land-based vessel-tracking systems, including that of the Indian Coast Guard and the Indian Navy.
The system is expected to cost around Rs60 crore and would come up in Mumbai with a remote data centre for disaster recovery in New Delhi. Antrix has called for expressions of interest from Indian technology firms to build the data centre for LITS.
As the Indian Ocean becomes a focus for global military and economic activities, there is a need for a satellite-based surveillance system to track ships and respond quickly to disasters or terror strikes, say analysts.
“The threat from non-state actors like terrorists, and drug and arms smugglers is also increasing,” said P.V. Rao, director at the Centre for Indian Ocean Studies at Osmania University in Hyderabad. For example, he points to the 1993 bomb blasts in Mumbai, for which arms were brought in through the Arabian Sea to the Konkan coast in Maharashtra.
The Indian LITS would track more than 6,000 ships, including passenger vessels and high-speed craft on international voyages using the mobile network of Inmarsat, the global mobile satellite communications firm.
Vessels would be tracked ov-er a distance of around 1,000 nautical miles, or 1,852km, from the country’s coastline, which measures more than 7,500km, through the network.
Around 5,000 of them would be foreign vessels that pass through India’s territorial waters.
“The signals from the small satellite terminals in these ships would be captured into a database,” said an Isro official, who did not want to be named.
Inmarsat has 10 communication satellites and covers around 85% of the world’s landmass and 98% of the world’s population, the company’s website said. The Inmarsat satellite terminals are commonly used for communication with their bases by ships and merchant vessels across the world.