By Praful Kumar Singh
New Delhi, Feb 14 : Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh today said that the rise in crimes such as terrorism, smuggling of narcotics, arms and weapons, piracy, and robbery not only pose a threat to our growing naval commerce, but also affect innocent fishermen and tourists.
In addition, he said, there is the abominable practice of trafficking in human beings, while inaugurating the first Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) Seminar, attended by Naval Chief of 30 nations of the region in New Delhi today.
The Prime Minister said that there is a need for a greater cooperation between the navies of the littoral states of the Indian Ocean for preventing transnational crimes and maintaining the biological diversity of the seabed in the region.
"The sea-lanes of the region have thus emerged as one of the most important lines of communication in the world. Container handling at the ports of Colombo, Mumbai, Chittagong, Bangkok and Malaysia's Port Klang are registering double-digit growth rates," Dr. Singh emphasised.
He said that a growing percentage of the world's large merchant ships and bulk carrier ships fly an Asian flag, and added that this expansion in trade and economic growth dictates the need to ensure the safety and security of the sea-lanes.
"A better understanding of the oceans through the application of marine science and technology, and greater synergy between scientific knowledge and decision making are indeed very necessary for the sustainable use and management of the oceans," Dr. Singh said.
He added that India would be happy to share its experience with countries of the region in harnessing the resources of Indian Ocean for sustainable economic development.
"The concept of maritime security needs to be viewed in the larger context. It should ensure freedom from threats arising either in or from the sea," he said.
Navies, as the guardians of the seas, are well placed to deliberate on current and emerging threats, and develop a comprehensive cooperative framework of maritime security, Dr. Singh said.
"I am sure that with your professionalism and desire for mutually beneficial cooperation, the IONS will come up with sound practical ideas to address our common challenges that all face. The Symposium is an important milestone in our quest for a cooperative and inclusive world order," he said.
"India remains committed to an Indian Ocean region that is stable and peaceful. We would like to cooperate with all like-minded countries so as to ensure the freedom of the seas for all nations and to deepen trade and economic linkages between the Indian Ocean Rim countries," Dr. Singh concluded.
Naval Chiefs of 30 Indian Ocean Region (IOR) littoral countries are meeting in New Delhi on February 14-15 to discuss ways to increase security, safety, stability and maritime cooperation in the region.
Through the IONS seminar, the Indian Navy aims to increase maritime cooperation in the IOR among navies/maritime agencies by providing a forum for discussion of issues, both regional and global.
IONS draws inspiration from the US-backed Western Pacific Naval Symposium that engages Southeast and East Asian countries to leave an 'engagement' deficiency in the Indian Ocean, particularly in the western Indian Ocean.
The Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, saw its first delegation arrive at New Delhi today to participate in the inaugural "IONS Seminar 2008" being conducted jointly by the Indian Navy and the National Maritime Foundation.
The Navy also wants to generate a flow of information and opinion between naval professionals.
Navies of Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Eritrea, Brazil, Seychelles, Kuwait, Qatar, Mauritius, Malagasy, Myanmar, Oman, Sri Lanka, the UAE, Kenya, Djibouti, Egypt, Mozambique, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Malaysia, Maldives, Indonesia, Australia, Thailand and France, etc are participating in the seminar.
The 12 member Saudi delegation is one of the largest at the IONS seminar.
The conclave of chiefs will discuss the charter of symposium, issues of membership, funds, observers and challenges before different navies.
Even after the seminar's conclusion its proceedings, the 'Conclave-of-Chiefs', will continue, on February 15 and16, with the venue shifting to Goa. They will visit INS Hansa, the naval air station there.
The Naval chiefs of 29 countries will also witness India's foremost Defence Exhibition, 'DEFEXPO-2008', from February 16-19.