Navy chief Admiral DK Joshi on Tuesday warned that India’s western coast was vulnerable to attacks similar to the 26/11 Mumbai terror strike due to the growing presence of floating armouries, laden with unauthorised weapons and ammunition, dangerously close to the country’s shores.
He said the unregulated armouries, which provide armed guards to vessels passing through pirate-infested waters, could jeopardise national security, including possible “infiltration by terrorists.”
“If existence of weapons on a vessel is not known or where the guards are transferring them, it could lead to such a situation (26/11),” Joshi said at the annual Navy Day media briefing.
Floating armouries came into picture in 2011 after the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) extended the high-risk area (HRA) for commercial shipping from 65 degrees east longitude to 78 degrees, declaring the entire Arabian Sea as a piracy-infested region.
The previous limit to the HRA was 600 nautical miles (1,111 km) away from the Mangalore coast, but the revised piracy-prone zone extends right up to Cape Comorin in Tamil Nadu.
Joshi said India would step up efforts to get the HRA reverted to the 2011 position as “merchant traffic” was hugging the country’s west coast to clear the piracy limits, leading to unpleasant incidents.
He said the Enrica Lexie incident of February 2012 in which Italian marines killed two fishermen occurred due to the extension of the HRA.
The Italian tanker was sailing barely 20 nautical miles (37 km) from the Kerala coast to steer clear of the newly-demarcated piracy zone.
Vessels such as the US-owned MV Seaman Guard Ohio - detained off Tuticorin in October for illegally carrying weapons into Indian waters - are used by merchant ships to pick up arms before entering dangerous waters.
Joshi flagged concerns about “combatants from some other countries” serving as private armed guards on floating armouries.
The Indian security establishment is closely monitoring at least one private company operating floating armouries as it is suspected of employing Pakistani navy veterans.
Making a pitch for reversing the HRA limits, Joshi said no pirate attack had been reported with 450 nautical miles (833 km) of India’s coast during the last two years.