Indian Decade

Policing the High Seas

The Coast Guard agencies of 17 Asian nations meet in India.

For the first time, India hosted the Heads of Asian Coast Guard Agencies Meeting (HACGAM) in Delhi on October 3.

A forum which comprises 17 countries and one region, Wednesday’s HACGAM is the eighth meeting of the organization. It came into being in 2004 to forge a combined response by major Asian powers to the menace of piracy but has since widened its scope to several other security issues. Wednesday’s meeting was the first time that HACGAM was held in South Asia.

In his inaugural address, Indian Defense Minister AK Antony stressed the importance of South East Asia's governments taking swift policy decisions to ensure the security and safety of oceans. “I would like to reiterate that oceans are and can become a domain for goodwill interactions between nations, mutual cooperation to provide humanitarian aid, preserving [the] maritime environment and enforcement of law at sea. Nations must cooperate with each other to ensure everlasting peace and security. The Coast Guards have the potential to elevate the maritime status of a nation among littoral states,” Antony said.

Twenty-one member organizations from 17 countries and one region are part of this initiative. The participating countries are Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam and Hong Kong.

The eighth HACGAM is being co-hosted by the Indian Coast Guard and Japan Coast Guard under the auspices of the Nippon foundation of Japan, the Indian defense ministry announced on Tuesday. Questions of law enforcement, maritime security, disaster prevention and relief, and capacity building – in addition to piracy – came up for intense discussion at this closed-door meet.

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Japan spearheaded the HACGAM initiative and convened the first meeting five years after the capture of the pirated vessel M.V. Alondra Rainbow by the Indian Coast Guard in November 1999.

The HACGAM has proven to be a valuable tool for Asia to present a united front against sea piracy, which hasn’t shown any appreciable decline in recent years. Mercifully for Asian powers, many of whose economies are heavily dependent on sea trade, South East Asia’s pirates do not have a Somalia-type base to operate from. The Somali pirates have thrived because of near lawless conditions prevailing in Somalia which has provided them an ideal base.