Will the Coast Guard please police the waters?

Discussion in 'Internal Security' started by AVERAGE INDIAN, Jun 13, 2014.



    Sep 22, 2012
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    Detroit MI
    By Commodore (Retired) KP Mathew

    I have been following a seagoing career since 1967, first with the Indian Navy for 30 years and since then with the merchant marine. From my Indian Navy perches I had a ringside view of the birth of the Indian Coast Guard in August 1978, and its formative years as an adjunct to the Indian Navy by way of ships and manpower. Since 1997, I have been with the merchant marine and have had the opportunity to observe and experience the functioning of the US coast guard as also those of a now more mature Indian Coast Guard.

    Protection of marine ecology and environment involves the enforcement of stringent international marine pollution laws. The laws stipulate that no garbage of any kind is to be disposed off within 3 nautical miles of the nearest land; between 3 and 12 nautical miles only food waste; and items such as paper, glass, metal, etc, ground to small size, up to over 25 nautical miles from nearest land. Disposal of plastic items is totally banned. Similar stringent regulations also govern the discharge of fluids with oil content.

    There is no enforcement whatsoever of these anti-pollution laws along the Indian coast. Waters of ports like Mumbai are a cesspool of garbage that is dumped with impunity by ships. This is the state within 3 nautical miles off the nearest land where no garbage is allowed to be dumped! The less said about garbage dumped in waters further away the better. So is the case with dirty oil discharge.

    Oil slicks can be found within harbours and along the coast. Periodically there are reports of tar balls fouling the once pristine beaches such as those of Goa. Besides lack of enforcement of anti-pollution laws, a contributory factor is the lack of an effective garbage and waste oil collection system at any of our ports that the state is meant to provide.

    In sharp contrast to our non-existent enforcement of anti-pollution laws, the US coast guard has a very active enforcement ethos. The US waters are regularly patrolled and policed. The functioning of ships' anti-pollution equipment, such as oily water separator, is inspected. Any oil slick detected or reported is tracked to its origin and the offending ship's master and chief engineer brought to book, which includes possible jail terms.

    The effects of this proactive enforcement are very evident. I can give two examples. The first is of the Great Lakes which is a fresh water body bound to the south by the US and to the north by Canada. On the lakes' shores are large industrial cities such as Detroit, Chicago, etc. The lakes are traversed by a large number of ships which call at these ports. Despite all this, there are regions marked on the lakes' charts from where water can be pumped directly into the ship's freshwater storage tanks for domestic use. Many ships avail of this.

    The second is an incident relating to garbage bags in a drum which was being hoisted from the ship alongside a jetty. The intention was to lower the drum to the shore reception point. During the hoisting the line of the winch parted and the drum with the garbage bags fell into the water. The frantic efforts that ensued to retrieve the floating garbage bags was personally supervised by the master with almost the entire ship's company being called to take part in the operation. Would there be such a commitment to anti-pollution laws in India?

    I am not aware of any scientific data collection efforts of the Indian Coast Guard.

    The cargo ships on which I have served have called many times at minor ports which have a Coast Guard presence, such as Porbandar, Okha, Beypore, etc. For example, the Porbandar port has a dedicated Coast Guard enclosure with a jetty that appeared to be home to 2 offshore patrol vessels, 2 fast patrol vessels and an assortment of interceptor craft. In the many visits which had stays at the port for four days at a time for loading, these ships hardly ever left their jetty abode. One could see the crew being occupied with a daily routine of physical training in the morning, ship board maintenance and work during the day, and games in the evening. A schedule more suited to an office environment. In other ports also the pattern was the same. The times when the ships were seen patrolling and keeping a check appeared to be when there were scheduled exercises.

    As for security, what I could perceive while sailing extensively along the coast are calls on the radio from the Coast Guard to ships to check vessel name and other particulars. Most of this information is readily available to all in the vicinity from the reception of the automatic identification system (AIS). This equipment, which is mandatorily fitted on all ships, continuously transmits the ship's name and position and movement data and can be received by any craft which has similar equipment. Hence the security benefit from these calls remains a mystery.

    The Coast Guard's approach to meeting its tasks should be that of being a maritime policeman, and policing requires presence at sea on a regular and continuing basis along with active and where necessary physical interrogation of all craft using our waters. Ultimately, the Indian Coast Guard has to take proactive measures to ensure the prevention of pollution and protection of environment right from the port precincts to the offshore areas.

    Will the Coast Guard please police the waters? - The Times of India

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