A week after a mysterious “ghost ship” showed up near Thongwa, just 12 km from Yangon, the government of Myanmar showed interest in a bold move: organizing a coast guard. Director General of the Department of Marine Administration U Thaung Kyaing confirmed during a September 6 press conference that there was some interest within the government for establishing a coast guard. News has circulated before that the government was considering the means to organize a coast guard to support the maritime police force.
Although the Myanmar Navy has been refocused by the Tatmadaw, the Myanmar armed forces, to support joint military operations, no separate naval air arm and coast guard is organized to secure the country’s 2,000 kilometer coast line. A coast guard is not a new concept for the Myanmar Navy. The Indian Navy has assisted Myanmar with coast guard training since 2001 and Myanmar has maintained good relations with the Indian Coast Guard. The goodwill visit of the Indian Coast Guard chief, Director General Vice Admiral H. C. S. Bisht, and port visit of Indian coast guard vassals Shaunak and Rajshree in January further enhanced the long relations between the Myanmar Navy and Indian Coast Guard. The Myanmar Navy had undeniably acquired knowledge and training on coast guard activities but financial constraints kept the plan to expand in that area sidelined decades.
A major question still remains on the command and control of the coast guard. Keeping such a force under the president and Department of Marine Administration is one option. This would be a politically bold attempt by the civilian administration to seek part of a mandate only granted to the Myanmar military by the 2008 constitution. A coast guard could be also linked to the president’s anti-narcotic campaign. The Bangladesh Navy and Coast Guard’s seizure of millions of yaba pills smuggled by sea-going trawlers in recent months also alarmed the Myanmar president’s office.
Although still in the distance and far from manifestation in large part due to financial constraints, no doubt such an initiative to form a civilian-controlled coast guard may also open a new chapter in the power struggle between the Tatmadaw and the civilian administration.
Amara Thiha is the Senior Research Manager at Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security (MIPS) and a nonresident fellow at the Stimson Center. The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of MIPS and Stimson Center.