Minister of State for Home Affairs Mullappally Ramachandran told the Rajya Sabha about India's efforts to boost maritime security and stated that Rs 260 crore has been allocated to tackle this problem. Ramachandran said that an in-depth analysis of the coastal security system had been carried out at different levels post 26/11 and several measures have been proposed to tackle the problem.
Maritime security experts told rediff.com that there is a desperate need to implement such schemes urgently since the concern regarding terror from the seas is still high. The Intelligence Bureau says that terror groups are constantly improvising their tactics. Although the latest threats indicate that these groups are trying to launch aerial attacks, the fact remains that the sea route will always remain the most preferred choice for terrorists.
Experts said that in the future, terror groups will prefer a sea-borne attack since it is the most difficult area to defend. They point out that terrorists will not use only boats to launch attacks. At least 90 per cent of world trade is sea-based and it is impossible to monitor all vessels, especially the smaller ones. Experts say that a large proportion of the funds sanctioned by the minister should be invested in equipment and intelligence gathering. High-tech equipment without proper intelligence is futile.
Indian intelligence agencies say that the equipment being used by terror groups is very easy to acquire and it is very hard to track. This equipment is not banned and hence the tracking them becomes very difficult. Hence there is a big need of having more of human intelligence especially along the fishing lanes so that any sort of suspicious activity is immediately reported. This would require a lot of funding and the intelligence agencies are hoping that a good proportion of funds would be provided for intelligence sharing.
The security agencies believe that there are five terror groups who possess the capacity to carry out a sea-borne attack. Prior to their defeat, the LTTE led this pack, however their capabilities have been neutralised completely. The Lashkar-e-Tayiba leads the pack and is considered to have the most advanced of all the systems.
Lashkar-e-Tayiba: They have high speed recreational boats, scuba diving equipment and water scooters at their disposal. These vehicles have not been used yet which leads security agencies to believe they could be planning a big operation.
Al Qaeda: The Al Qaeda, which mastered the art of attacking ships with an underwater attack by suicide squad, depends more on the LeT for its equipment. Until recently the Qaeda used Indian sea routes to transport arms and ammunition, which was one of the reasons they did not want to launch any direct attacks on India.
Harkat-ul-Jihad-Islamiya: This off shoot of the LeT has specialists in sea borne operations. They are believed to have 6,000 sea specialists. The IB says that the reason why the HuJI has so many sea farers is because they smuggled arms and ammunition using the sea route for the LeT. In future sea-borne attacks, the LeT is most likely to use the operatives of this group.
Jemmah Islamiah: This Indonesian group was in the news when it tried to attack US vessels in Singapore in 2003. This group is notorious for having acquired speed boats which it termed as suicide boats.
Abu Sayaaf: Based in the Philippines, this group was responsible for the bombing of the Super Ferry in 2004 which killed over 100 people. This group has cadres who are very experienced at sea, but they continue to use wooden boats loaded with machine guns for their attacks.
The threat of maritime terrorism is highest in India's case. Experts say that there is a lot of work to be done to neutralise this threat. Apart from having state of the art equipment, there is a constant need to share intelligence and also have both manned and unmanned chopper aerial surveillance over the sea to pick up intercepts. In addition to this there is also a constant need to keep upgrading technology to keep pace with these groups.
India will also need to depend on neighbouring countries for intelligence to keep a tab on any activity so that it does not let these terror groups to dominate our naval space.