New Delhi: Observing that piracy and armed robberies in high seas were threatening the stability of the Asian region, Defence Minister AK Antony on Wednesday said India was taking steps to augment its capabilities to fight piracy and terrorism.
Addressing the 8th Heads of Asian Coast Guard Agencies Meeting, the Defence Minister said, "India strongly believes that mutual cooperation alone is the most effective way in ensuring the security and safety of oceans."
"The various challenges including menace of piracy and armed robbery, drugs and arms trafficking and unregulated and unreported fishing to name a few, threaten both short-term and long-term stability of the region," he said.
The meeting is being attended by 17 heads of Coast Guards from Asian countries including China, Asia, Japan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Cambodia.
The Defence Minister said in view of the increased responsibilities and challenges, "We are also planning to augment our capacity in the fields of coastal security, anti-piracy, anti-terrorism operations and oil spill response capabilities."
Commenting on the need for enhancing regional cooperation, Antony said the Indian Navy and Coast Guard regularly participate in joint exercises with many Asian nations.
"It shall be our endeavour to promote such cooperative mechanisms as, regional cooperation agreement for combating piracy and armed robbery against ships in Asia in the future," the Defence Minister said.
Antony said the nations in the region can "prevent crimes at sea through an increase in information sharing, mutual training assistance and proactive interactions."
Antony said in recent times, crimes in the seas have acquired several new dimensions.
"From theft it has come to dangerous maritime terrorism with a destructive aim. Piracy has also come from hijacking in high seas to theft of cargo to taking hostage for ransom. Piracy and terrorism are not only destabilising the economy but also have serious implications for security," he said.
Antony said in the complex scenario where Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOCs) are being used for human trafficking and movement of stowaways, "security forces must respond with a high degree of alacrity and professionalism, in real time."
The Defence Minister said swift policy decisions by the governments, in keeping with the maritime environment, were of great importance in today's scenario.
"Top priority must be accorded to the creation of safe and secure oceans. Governments and law enforcement agencies must implement national and international laws that can act as a deterrent for unscrupulous elements," he said.
Antony said the oceans are and have the capacity to become a "domain for goodwill interactions between nations, mutual cooperation to provide humanitarian aid, preserving maritime environment and enforcement of law at sea."
He said nations must cooperate with each other to ensure everlasting peace and security.
The Indian side at the meeting was represented by Coast Guard Deputy Director General Rajendra Singh.