By Raju Vernekar
Mumbai, November 15
The Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard will be conducting two-day mega comprehensive coastal defence Exercise “Sea Vigil-2022”, to activate the coastal security apparatus across the country and assess the overarching coastal defence mechanism, on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The exercise will be undertaken along the 7,516-km coastline, and in India’s two million square km Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). It will involve all coastal states and Union Territories, along with other maritime stakeholders, including the fishing and coastal communities, Ministry of Defence (MoD), said.
In addition to the MoD, the conduct of this exercise is also being facilitated by the Ministries of Home Affairs, Ports Shipping and Waterways, Petroleum and Natural Gas, Fisheries Animal Husbandry and Dairying, Customs, and other agencies of Centre/ State.
The first “Sea Vigil” exercise was held in 2019. It is part of the build up towards the biennial Theatre Level Readiness Operational Exercise (TROPEX), in which the Navy validates its war fighting readiness every two years. Together, Sea Vigil and TROPEX will assess the Navy’s reactions to the entire spectrum of maritime security challenges — from terrorist attacks and piracy to aircraft carrier and submarine operations.
In 2018, for the first time, the Navy conceptualised a national-level coastal defence exercise to validate the various measures that had been instituted for enhancing maritime security since 26/11.
On the fateful evening of November 26, 2008, 10 heavily armed Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists sailed a small boat right up to the shore of Mumbai City. Getting off the boat in the vicinity of their targets, they shot dead 166 people and wounded more than 300. A stunned Navy, ordered to ensure this never happens again, joined hands with the Coast Guard and the police forces of coastal states to put in place a coastal defence structure that watched over and guarded the approaches to India’s 7,516-kilometre coastline.
In the wake of the 26/11 attacks, the Navy was made the senior partner for coastal security, overseeing operations undertaken jointly with the Coast Guard and the government established a Maritime Security Advisory Board, to speed up ministerial decision-making in an emergency. A three-star admiral was appointed maritime security adviser (MSA). Besides, Joint operation centres (JOCs) were set up in Kochi, Mumbai, Port Blair, and Visakhapatnam. The commanders-in-chief (CinCs) of the Navy’s three commands – Western, Southern and Eastern commands – were additionally designated as CinCs Coastal Defence in their respective areas.
A Coastal Command, headed by the Coast Guard chief, was set up to co-ordinate the activities of central and state agencies, including the coastal police forces. 26/11 triggered a major Coast Guard expansion, with the force growing to thrice its size in a decade. More than 100 patrol vessels and aircraft have been inducted till now.
In addition to above, a national command network for real time maritime domain awareness was created. It linked the Navy and Coast Guard operations rooms with higher command, a multi-agency static coastal radar and automatic identification system (AIS) chain at 46 sites and the provision of identification transponders for some 300,000 fishing craft below 300 tons.
The marine police forces of coastal states, whose jurisdiction extended five nautical miles out to sea, were given 73 police stations and a range of outposts. The coastal police was beefed up with the acquisition of 204 interceptor craft – a mix of Invader and Hellraiser rigid-hull inflatable boats bought from Greek company Motomarine.
The government also planned the development of intelligence networks among fishing communities, regarded as a front line for gathering actionable data and the identity cards were issued to all fishermen and other residents of coastal villages.