Academic journal article IUP Journal of International Relations

Maritime Security Threats in the Indian Ocean: How Prepared Is the Indian Navy?

Academic journal article IUP Journal of International Relations

Maritime Security Threats in the Indian Ocean: How Prepared Is the Indian Navy?

Article excerpt


Named after India and sharing an approximately 7,000-km shoreline, the Indian Ocean has assumed greater significance for India on account of its vital sea lanes which are not only the lifelines of the Indian economy but also of other major economies. Its navigability throughout the year has added more importance to the Ocean. The sea lanes in the Indian Ocean are considered strategically important not only during war time providing passages for logistic and military supply, but also during peace time for facilitating commerce and trade. More than 80% of the world's seaborne trade in oil transits through Indian Ocean chokepoints, with 40% passing through the Strait of Hormuz, 35% through the Strait of Malacca and 8% through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait.1

Approximately 2.49 billion people are housed by the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), representing 40% of the world's population. With a collective Gross Domestic Product in Purchasing Power Parity (GDP-PPP) of $1 0,1 31 bn, the IOR represented only 1 0.3% of world GDP-PPP in 2010.2 However, despite these positive features, the region's role and importance were held hostage by superpower rivalries during the Cold War era. But with the end of the Cold War and introduction of globalization, the old order has changed and the attention has shifted from Atlantic and Pacific to the Indian Ocean.

The economies of the regional countries are on high trajectories and on account of this, the IOR has risen to the forefront of world geopolitics. Propelled by the world's continuing reliance on Persian Gulf hydrocarbon resources, the growing significance of the Indian Ocean's sea lanes of communication and chokepoints, as well as the turbulent regional socio-political environment and the rise of China and India as global powers, the region has emerged as an area of crucial geostrategic importance.

The energy security is the critical security concern for the littoral states in general and for potential economic powers such as India and China in particular. A majority of energy requirements are passing through this ocean. Any disruption in the sea lanes of communications can play havoc with the regional economies as well as the external major powers which are dependent on Persian Gulf energy. In India's case, it holds paramount importance because a major part of energy is passing through the Indian Ocean from energy-rich source-Persian Gulf. Approximately 70% of India's oil import passes through the IOR to its various ports.3 As a consequence, it has been enhancing its strategic influence through the use of soft power by becoming a major foreign investor in regional mining, oil, gas and infrastructure projects.

Economically, it holds greater significance to the changing geopolitics of international relations. The Indian Ocean provides major short cut sea routes for sea trade and for connecting the Middle East, Africa, and East Asia with Europe and the Americas.4 It carries a heavy traffic of petroleum and petroleum products from the oilfields of the Persian Gulf and Indonesia. Most of the people from coastal areas eke out their livelihood from the ocean and it is the basis of their economic wellbeing. It is also rich in hydrocarbons, which is being tapped in the offshore areas of Saudi Arabia, Iran, India, and Western Australia.5 Approximately, 40% of the world's offshore oil production is from the Indian Ocean.6 Beach sands rich in heavy minerals and offshore deposits are actively exploited by bordering countries, particularly India, South Africa, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.7 Because of its strategic location, Indian Ocean holds one-fourth of the world's entire marine cargo and almost two-thirds of oil shipment. Approximately, 50,000 ships pass annually through the Straits of Malacca alone.8 Out of the 1 50 ships that pass through Straits of Malacca per day, approximately 58% carry crude oil.

India's Dependence on Indian Ocean

In the 1940s, K M Pannikar, one of the renowned maritime Indian historians highlighted the strategic importance of Indian Ocean in these words:

While to other countries the Indian Ocean is only one of the important oceanic areas, to India it is a vital sea. …

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