The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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George sounds ocean alarm

Chennai, Nov. 7: Defence minister George Fernandes today cautioned against “human involvement in accidents and tragedies at sea through militant activism, piratical attacks or by the agents of transnational ocean crimes”.

Inaugurating the Second International Conference on Maritime Search and Rescue at suburban Utthandi in Tamil Nadu, Fernandes said the “challenges at sea continue to be formidable” despite the two Insat-2A and Insat-2B satellites providing coverage of the entire Indian Ocean and adjoining areas and aiding search and rescue efforts.

“Internationally recognised and effective distress reporting, search and rescue system” was being put in place in India with the Indian Coast Guard at its helm, Fernandes said.

He urged the participants at the maritime conference to discuss ways to strengthen much-needed international co-operation and understanding on the subject.

This is the second such conference organised by the coast guard. The first one, held in Mumbai in October 2000, focused on combating piracy and armed robbery at sea.

Fernandes said maritime activities in the Indian subcontinent have also been recorded in the Rig Veda. Humans were able to understand the importance of the sea with time and were leaning more and more towards it for sustenance, he said, adding that this dependence “is only going to increase”.

The defence minister referred to the Indian Coast Guard having been declared as the national coordinating authority for maritime search and rescue in the Indian search and rescue region as a serious responsibility. For this, he said, they are assisted by other agencies in accordance with a national contingency plan.

The coast guard “is a multi-mission armed force” constituted to provide safety and security in the maritime zones of India, Fernandes pointed out. About 60 per cent of the lives that the coast guard saved since its inception were those of foreign seamen sailing, he said. This, he emphasised, reflected its contribution towards international search and rescue efforts.

Fernandes praised the steps taken by global organisations towards search and rescue endeavours and said their efforts, coupled with those of coast guards and other rescue agencies across the world, “have made life at sea much more safe today”.

Coast Guard director general Vice Admiral O.P. Bansal informed that a toll-free number — 1718 — had been put in place for distress alert in most of the coastal areas of the country.

He, however, expressed concern over the new issues that impinge on maritime search and rescue, such as territorial sovereignty, threat to coastal environment and the protection of human rights.

The Centre has set up 18 coastal wireless stations for communicating distress and safety messages, pointed out the secretary in the ministry of shipping, M.P. Pinto. Vice Admiral Raman Puri, flag officer commanding-in-chief, Eastern Naval Command, stressed the need for ensuring a secure maritime framework and incorporating new technologies to improve the safety of life at sea.

Many countries, including China, Russia, US, UK, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and Sri Lanka, are participating in the two-day conference to mark the Indian Coast Guard’s silver jubilee celebrations. A special postal cover was also released to mark the occasion.

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