Inaugurating the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) here, Dr Singh said a significant share of international trade passes through the sea-lanes of the Indian Ocean region, but regrettably it also accounts for 70 per cent of the world's natural disasters. ''Recent years have seen a rise in crimes such as terrorism, smuggling, including narcotics, arms and weapons, piracy, and robbery. These activities not only pose a threat to our growing naval commerce but also affect innocent fishermen and tourists. In addition, there is the abominable practice of trafficking in human beings,'' he said.
Observing that the perpetrators of these crimes are ''well-organised and well-funded transnational crime syndicates who take full advantage of the vastness of the oceans'', he said the need for cooperation among the navies of the region in preventing such international crimes ''is therefore of paramount importance.'' The symposium is being attended by Chiefs of Navies and Heads of Maritime Security Organisations representing the littoral states of the Indian Ocean.
Dr Singh said Indian Ocean littoral states had witnessed rapid economic growth in recent years, which were translating into increased intra-regional and global trade, a significant portion of which was sea-borne.
Pointing out that the sea-lanes of the region had emerged as one of the most important lines of communication in the world, he said container handling at the ports of Colombo, Mumbai, Chittagong, Bangkok and Malaysia's Port Klang had registered double-digit growth rates.
Reiterating India's commitment to an Indian Ocean region that is stable and peaceful, Dr Singh said his country would like to cooperate with all like-minded countries to ensure the freedom of the seas for all nations and to deepen trade and economic linkages between the Indian Ocean Rim countries.
Exuding hope that the symposium would harness the remarkable diversity and reinforce the commonalities of the littoral states of the region, he said efforts must be made to further accelerate the pace of engagements and connectivity among them, not just in trade and commerce but in the realm of ideas, people and cultures.
''This requires a consensus-based approach, with a focus on pooling of resources and capacity building, information-exchanges and development of inter-operability in doctrinal and operational terms...The symposium is an important milestone in our quest for a cooperative and inclusive world order,'' he observed.
The Prime Minister also touched upon the concept of maritime security, saying it should ensure freedom from threats arising either in or from the sea. ''You, 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,'' he told the symposium.
Expressing concern over the rise in incidents of natural disasters, he appealed to the navies to protect their citizens from natural disasters and mitigate the effects on coastal zones from phenomena like cyclones and tsunamis.