Seabed minerals drive India’s naval strategy


Tihar Jail
Aug 6, 2009
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By James Lamont in New Delhi and Varun Sood in Mumbai

Published: September 14 2009 22:45 | Last updated: September 14 2009 22:45

India’s ambitious plans to modernise its navy are being driven by a scramble for mineral wealth on the seabed, far from the mainland, according to the country’s military strategists.

Senior naval planners have identified the future energy and mineral resources of Asia’s third-largest economy as one of the motivations behind the deployment of more powerful warships in the Indian Ocean.

India has one of the world’s fastest-growing navies with 120 vessels. It plans to add almost 100 warships to its fleet over the next decade, as it seeks to modernise its armed forces and develop low-cost shipbuilding capabilities.

The strategists foresee Indian firepower protecting commercial drilling sites deep in the southern Indian Ocean. In some cases, these could be as far distant as Diego Garcia, a British island territory and US military base, which lies 1,000 miles from the India’s southern tip and well beyond its waters.

They also say naval power will be needed to protect reserves within India’s exclusive economic zones – which stretch up to 200 miles from its territory – from infringement. The EEZs include the waters surrounding the Andaman Islands, off the southern coast of Burma.

India regards the Indian Ocean as its backyard. Its southernmost presence in these waters is a permanent base in Antarctica, promoting the country’s strategic interests and polar science. Construction of the country’s third base is to start next year.

Senior Indian officers, such as Admiral Sureesh Mehta, the recently retired head of the navy, have spoken publicly about the inevitability of scouring the seabed for reserves of oil and gas, and minerals such as manganese, cadmium and nickel, as land-based resources are depleted.

They say that exploitation of the seabed has already begun “in a minuscule way” and that, in the future, technological advances will make the exploration of seabed resources “bound to happen”.

According to the Goa-based National Institute of Oceanography, India has surveyed an area of nearly 4m sq km in the central Indian Ocean basin that has led to findings of “significant commercial grades” of copper, nickel, iron and cobalt deposits.

India has exclusive rights from the International Seabed Authority for exploration.

The assessment of India’s strategic needs comes as China likewise extends its naval might into the Indian Ocean. Beijing is seeking to protect the supply of oil to its fast-growing economy and shipments of minerals from its mines in Africa.

It also comes after the May deadline for claiming any extension to the continental shelf beyond the statutory 200 miles set by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
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