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Armed vessels worry navy

New Delhi, Dec. 3: Merchant vessels carrying weapons and combatants in the seas around India pose threats similar to the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, the navy has warned.

Calling such vessels “floating armouries”, navy chief Admiral D.K. Joshi today said that many such ships were “entirely unregulated. This has very serious security implications for us including the infiltration of terrorists”.

Ostensibly, these ships and combatants escort merchant vessels for counter-piracy actions. But the intentions are not always stated.

Pointing to the confiscation of the MV Seaman Guard Ohio — a US-owned but Sierra Leone-flagged ship — off Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, earlier this year, the navy chief made a case for a coastal security law that would bring the state governments within the security grid operated by the navy. The vessel had 25 armed guards of four different nationalities.

“There are close to 140 private security companies operating in North Indian Ocean, which hire... armed security personnel,” he said.

“These personnel shift between vessels at sea, without entering any port or coastal state-regulated maritime territory. There are scores of ships operating as floating armouries outside any coastal state jurisdiction.

“Lack of any provisions to deal with such vessels or armed personnel hampers legal actions. We have recommended that this necessitates formulation of a regulatory framework by the International Maritime Organisation.”

Joshi added: “If there are unregulated arms and ammunition on a vessel, the existence of the weapons is not known as also where the guards are transferring them, and this could lead to such a situation (the Mumbai attacks) on anybody’s soil.”