A wake-up call on piracy

A wake-up call on piracy

Until the other day, the word piracy evoked images of bounty hunters from strife-torn Somalia hijacking ships just off Mogadishu or the boarding of merchantmen in the Strait of Malacca. True there was the odd lost Somali boat caught off Lakshadweep, but then Delhi was always far from such trouble spots.

No longer. As reported in Mint on Thursday, insurers have classed much of the Arabian Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean as areas that could see attacks, terror strikes and other assorted security problems for ships operating there. The London-based Joint War Committee has issued a circular on the subject that marks the Arabian Sea up to 75 degrees east longitude as subject to this risk. A look at the map will show you that Mangalore, Mumbai and much of India’s western coast fall within this area.

The result: higher premiums for goods and commodities that flow in and out of India. For xample, Shipping Corp. of India has already increased its “piracy surcharge" from $40 to $80 for every 20ft container. Premiums on crude oil tankers and other cargo bearers are also on the rise. Apart from hitting businesses directly, they will also add to the cost that is borne by consumers for products as diverse as petrol to fruit juices.

Much of the blame for this situation lies with the ministry of defence in New Delhi. Providing a secure environment for commerce and trade is one of the basic tasks of every state. India has clearly not provided this security and the higher risk premiums being charged for ships operating close to its border are a reflection of that failure.

This is a shame. For a country with “bluewater" naval aspirations and other assorted global pretensions, providing a safe marine environment—be it by aggressive patrolling of its maritime environment or by offensive operations in areas as far off as the Somali coast— ought not to be a debatable matter. The fact is that India has had a lackadaisical approach on the subject. It has partly been free-riding maritime security on other navies (the US, Chinese and other Western countries operating off Somalia and other parts of the Arabian Sea). Partly it has left matters to chance. It has had some naval presence in that area dedicated for anti-piracy operations, but clearly that has proven insufficient.

Has India failed to provide a secure environment for trade in the Arabian Sea? Tell us at views@livemint.com