SSCP and security by Capt. H. Balakrishnan


(Lecture by Capt. H. Balakrishnan at the National Seminar on Protection of Rama Setu held at Constitution Club on 1,2 Dec. 2007)

1. During the course of the next 15-20 minutes, I shall dwell on some of the salient threats that could possibly impinge on vessels navigating through the SSCP.

2. I shall be dealing with the following possible threats and propose solutions:

(a)            Piracy and Armed Robbery

(b)            Maritime Terrorism

(c)            Conutering the threats

In dealing with these threats, I shall endeavour to present the global scenario as existing at present and overlay it with the Indian  perspective and its possible fallout on the SSCP.


3. The internationally accepted �definition� of piracy is contained in Article 101 of the 1982 U.N Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS).

Piracy consists of any of the following acts:

(a)            Any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depradation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:

(i) On the High Seas, against another ship or aircraft or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;

(ii) Against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any state;

(b)            Any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;

(c)            Any act inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in (a) or (b).

The Global Scene on Piracy

4. Acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships are of tremendous concern to shipping in general. The fight to suppress these acts is linked to the Convention for Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation 1988, and to improve security measures on board ships and in port facilities adopted in Dec 2002.

5. According to reports compiled by the IMO, between 1984 and end of 1999, there had been 1587 attacks by pirates on ships around the world. In some areas, these attacks involved a disturbing increase in violence. Contrary to the stereotype, todays pirates are often trained fighters aboard speedboats, equipped with  satellite phones and Global Positioning System (GPS) and armed with automatic weapons.

6. The IMO estimates that incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships are under reported by the factor of Two. Several reasons have been given:-

(a)            Fear that a successful act or piracy reflects poorly on the Master’s competence 

(b)            Concern that such a report would embarrass the state in whose territorial waters the act occurred.

(c)            The belief  that an investigation would disrupt the vessel’s sailing schedules.

(d)            The possibility that the shipowner’s insurance would increase.

7. Piracy Reporting Centre: The International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB), became operational in Oct 1992 and is located at Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. The centre is financed by voluntary contributions from shipping and insurance companies and its services are free of charge to all vessels irrespective of ownership and flag. Its specific tasks are:

(a)       Report all piracy incidents and armed robbery at sea to concerned law enforcement agencies.

(b)       Locate vessels that have been seized by pirates and recover stolen cargoes

(c)       Help bring the pirates to justice

(d)       Assist owners and crews of ships that have been attacked.

(e)       Collate information on piracy around the world. 

Statistical Data from IMB


(a)            Number of Acts of Piracy 2000 to 2005

(i) 2000 – 470

(ii) 2001 – 370

(iii) 2002 – 390

(iv) 2003 – 430

(v) 2004 – 310

(vi) 2005 – 260


Real Life Incidents of Piracy at Sea

9. In Nov 1999, in the Arabian Sea, Indian Maritime Forces rescued the hijacked M.V.ALONDRA RAINBOW, a 7000 Ton Panama registered vessel, belonging to Japanese owners. The vessel was on passage from Kuala Tanjung  in Indonesia to Milke in Japan. The IMB Piracy Reporting Centre had put out a worldwide broad cast of the incident. According to IMB Centre, the crew of the vessel had been located safe in Thailand and the vessel was expected to turn up at any Indian port to discharge her cargo. After a High Seas Drama, the hijacked vessel was captured and the pirates brought to justice. However, on an appeal in the Bombay High Court, some years later, the Pirates were left free.

10. In Sep 1998, the Panama registered M.V. TENYU disappeared in the Straits of Malacca while on passage from Indonesia to the Republic of Korea, with a cargo of aluminium ingots. She later reappeared with a different name and a different crew . The IMO reports that it is almost certain that all her original crew of 17 were murdered. This was on the basis of some of the bodies being recovered by fishermen in the South China Sea.

11.             In Nov 1998, the bulk carrier, MV CHEUNG SON was attacked by pirates in the South China Sea. Her crew of 23 were all shot dead by the pirates.

12. More recently, The New Indian Express, Chennai in its edition of 02 Nov 2007, had reported about the fate of Indian seaman in two different incidents of piracy. One off Nigeria and the other off Somalia.

13. The Washington Post of 01 Nov 2007, had carried a report of the U.S. Navy going into action against pirates in two separate incidents off Somalia. The U.S. Navy had acted on the basis of distress calls made by the vessels that were boarded by the pirates.

Piracy off Indian Waters

14. The LTTE has an impressive track record in this game. Some of the reported cases relate to the hijacking of the vessels, IRISH MONA (Aug 1995), PRINCESS WAVE (Aug 1996), ATHENA (May 1997), MISEN (Jul 1997), MORONG BONG (Jul 1997), CORDIALITY (Sep 1997) and PRINCESS KASH (Aug 1998).


15. Security analysts across the globe are increasingly veering around to the view that the lines of demarcation between piracy and terrorism are getting intertwined. That is, Piracy on the High Seas is becoming a key Tactic of Terrorist Groups. Unlike the pirates of a earlier era, whose sole objective was quick commercial gain, many of todays pirates are Maritime Terrorists with an ideological bent and a broad political agenda. The nexus of Piracy and Terrorism is dangerous for the world energy markets.

16. Today, in the face of massive international efforts to freeze terrorist finances, terrorist groups have come to view that piracy is a potentially rich source of funding. This appeal is particularly apparent in the Straits of Malacca. According to Indonesias state intelligence agency, detained senior members of the Jemaah Islamiyah have admitted that the group has considered launching attacks on Malacca Shipping. Also, uniformed members of the Free Aceh Movement, an Indonesian separatist group, have been hijacking vessels and taking their crew as hostage at an increasing rate. The protracted ransom negotiations yield considerable sums-the going rate is nearly $ 100,000 per ship. This ransom is later used to procure weapons for operations against the Indonesian Government. In some cases, the Free Aceh Movement has demanded the release of members detained by the Indonesian Government.

17. Geography forces world shipping to pass through strategic chokepoints, many of which are located at in areas where terrorists with maritime capabilities operate. These channels are so narrow at certain points, that a single burning super tanker and its spreading oil slick could block the passage for other vessels. Were Terrorist – Pirates to hijack a large bulk carrier or tanker, sail it onto one of the choke points, and scuttle it to block the sea lane, the consequences for the world economy could be quite severe.

18. The foregoing analysis is equally applicable to the SSCP           


General Survey

19. At an International Conference on National Security in a Changing Region  held at Singapore on 28, 29 OCT 2004, the well known security analyst, Mr.B.Raman in his paper, Maritime Terrorism: An Indian Perspective, stated: Apprehensions of major acts of maritime terrorism by terrorist  organizations, which are members of Osama bin Ladens International Islamic Front (IIF), continue to be high, but there are no clear indicators so far of their having already acquired the necessary capability for such acts. However, their nexus with trans-national mafia groups, like the one headed by Pakistan based Dawood Ibrahim, has placed at their disposal maritime facilities which could be used and are being used for the clandestine movement of trained men and material required for land based terrorist operations in other countries. It is pertinent to mention here that the explosives for the 1993 Mumbai blasts came by sea.

20.             In an interview to the British shipping newspaper Lloyds List – on 06 Aug 2004, the British First Sealord, Admiral Sir Alan West was quoted as stating that Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups had realized the importance of global maritime trade and could launch attacks against merchant vessels.

21. Admiral Sir Alan West then stated: We have got an underlying level of intelligence which shows there is a threat. What weve noticed is that Al Qaeda and other organizations have an awareness about maritime trade. Theyve realized how important it is for world trade in general, and they understand the significance. Sea borne terrorism could potentially cripple global trade and have grave knock on effects on developed economies. Weve seen other plans from intelligence of attacks on merchant shipping. I can’t give you clear detail on any of that, clearly, but we are aware that they have plans. Ship owners realize that.

22.             No doubt, in comparison to acts of terrorism in the skies and on land, such acts either in inland waters or on the high seas have been few, except in Sri Lanka. This could possibly be attributed to two factors, namely:-

(a)       Except in the case of suicide terrorist acts, where escape is not a factor, getting away after an act of maritime terrorism on the high seas is not an easy task.

(b)       Terrorists want a stage to enact their drama in order to derive the maximum publicity and have a psychologically intimidatory impact on the minds of their perceived State adversaries as also its citizens   

23. However, the attraction for an act of maritime terrorism on the high seas is its psychological impact on the minds of policy framers and economic managers of the targeted vessel’s Nation. It could have an adverse spillover on other States in the region as well.

The Global Arms Bazar

24.             A discernable trend at present, which is extremely disturbing, is the spread of increasingly sophisticated conventional weapons to non-state actors, including long range anti-ship missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles and close range armour piercing missiles and rocket propelled grenades. All these varieties of munitions are capable of inflicting serious damage to ships, both big and small. The trade in small arms and light infantry weapons is already extensive in the conflict prone parts of the globe and the demand for more advanced equipment is strong.

25. The problem is global in scope. There are around 100 countries that makes weapons and ammunition. Sales of these products are estimated to be worth over $ 1000 Billion in 2006, fifteen times the annual spending on international aid. In short, there is a global arms bazaar, where cash in king and State controls are fax.

26.             The list of foiled, failed and successful attempts in maritime related terrorism over the past decade is significant. Yet, there is a tendency to over look or downplay what has happened, and thus ignore the possibility of further trouble. It is clear that terrorists can see the potential of using the maritime trading system and its land links in the container supply chain to conceal weapons or agents for attack purposes.

27. Terrorist Attack on Naval/Merchant Ships : Three recent examples should suffice to illustrate the maritime terrorist threat:

(a)       Attack on the U.S.S Cole:  In Oct 2000, Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen, packed a small boat with explosives and rammed the same onto the side of the U.S Navy destroyer-U. S.S Cole, while the ship was berthed in harbour. The blast left a gaping hole on the side of the destroyer and the cost of repairs amounted to $250 million. The blast killed 17 U.S Naval sailors and wounded another 40 seamen.

(b)       Missile Attack on Israeli Naval Ships: On 14  Jul 2006, two days after hostilities between Israel and the Hezbollah commenced, the latter fired two, C-802 radar guided anti-ship cruise missiles from ashore in Lebanon. The target were two Israeli Naval Corvettes that were patrolling off the Lebanese coast. One missile seriously damaged one of the corvettes, killing four Israeli seamen. The second missile narrowly missed the other corvette. Instead it hit a Cambodian registered merchant vessel. It sank immediately taking with it all the eleven seaman on board.

(c)       Attack on the French VLCC Limburg: In Oct 2002, a boat packed with explosives, rammed into the side of the French VLCC Limburg, off Yemen, and seriously damaged the vessel. The tanker had a capacity of 300,000 tons. Fortunately, at the time of the incident, it was loaded with only 55,000 tons of crude oil. This attack disrupted Yemen’s oil trade for a short period.

The LTTE Factor

28. From India’s point of view, the most worrisome terrorist organization with a well developed and well tested capability for acts of Maritime Terrorism is the LTTE. Its capability consists of its fleet of at least two or three merchant vessels, which are used for gun running, as also its Sea Tigers’ naval arm. Its merchant vessels plying under flags of convenience normally transport legitimate cargo and, when required, are also used for clandestinely transporting military hardware procured by the LTTE in countries like Pakistan, Thailand, Ukraine etc.

29. Two other aspects of the LTTE’s gun running capability by sea have to be noted. Firstly, its willingness to place its capability at the disposal of other terrorist organizations. There is at least one reported instance of the LTTE helping in 1995 either the Abu Sayyaf or the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, both of the Philippines, by carrying a consignment of arms and ammunition donated by Harkat-ul-Mujahidee n (HUM), from Pakistan to Southern  Philippines. Secondly, its use of merchant vessels not belonging to it, for the purpose of gun running. In 1993, a foreign merchant vessel carrying AK 47s, from a Russian company, arrived in Kochi. The consignee, was ostensibly our M of D. This was false. Indian intelligence strongly suspected the LTTE hand in this botched attempt at gun running.

30. Sea Tigers: The Sea Tigers of the LTTE has established control over most of North Sri Lanka Coastal region and the seas contiguous to this coast. They have displayed considerable ingenuity and daring in sea borne insurgency. They have carried out numerous daring attacks on Sri Lankan naval ships, and have not hesitated in undertaking suicide missions. Their daring attack on the naval installations on Delft Island, this summer, is a case in point. The SSCP is verily a next-door-neighbour in the area of operations of the Sea Tigers!

31.             LTTE Air Arm:  A new addition to the LTTE’s fighting capability is its Air Arm. They have todate carried out Four Daring Night Attacks on Sri Lankan Military Assets. A new factor seen in the last attack was their ability to co-ordinate the land and air attacks. The SSCP falls well within the radius of operation of the ZLIN-Z242L Czech aircraft which the LTTE operates.

Threat Perceptions in the SSCP

32. Media reports of 28  April 2007 in Chennai, attributed the killings of TN fishermen at sea, to the LTTE Sea Tigers. The grounds for killing the fishermen, attributed to LTTE sources, was that they were �Spying� on the LTTE�s activities at sea. If that be the case, the possibility of the LTTE advancing a similar argument for attacking ships navigating through the SSCP cannot be ruled out. The consequences of a ship sinking/running aground in the channel could have a disastrous impact on the very viability of the Project itself. It would have a psychological impact, as brought out earlier, on the shipping industry which may then tend to bypass the SSCP.

33. Mine Threat: The prevailing depths in the SSCP make it an ideal area for the use of sea mines. It has already been highlighted about the acquisition of sophisticated conventional arms by various terrorist organizations. A rudimentary sea mine is far cheaper than any of the sophisticated missiles. And yet, the mines can block the channel from being used for protracted durations as Mine Countermeasures (MCM) is a slow, tedious and time consuming form of naval warfare. This threat needs to be seriously kept in mind while formulating security policies for the SSCP. It is hoped that the lessons learnt from MCM operations in the Straits of Hormuz during and after Operation Desert Storm is not lost on our policy planners 


34. In framing effective security policies for the SSCP, the complexities of international shipping need to be understood. A ship is built in one country, has a flag of convenience of a second country, is owned by a national of a third country and the vessel itself is manned by a crew of mixed nationalities with differing security clearance standards, is controlled through the Flag State in all its internal matters, but is subject to local Port State jurisdiction !! The global terrorist is aware, that, apart from a few international agreements with respect to slavery, piracy and illicit carriage of narcotics, there is no comprehensive Maritime Law to combat Maritime Terrorism. The terrorist can and does take advantage of this legal vacuum. There are diverse, complex and often conflicting domestic laws enacted by different coastal States.

35. The Indian Scene: If the foregoing was bad enough, consider the Indian Scene. The Indian Navy and Coast Guard come under the M of D. Fisheries comes under the Ministry of Agriculture. DG Shipping / DG lighthouses come under the Ministry of Shipping. The customs come under the Revenue Wing of the Ministry of Finance. ONGC comes under the Ministry of Petroleum! Also, the nodal agency for dealing with any marine oil spill is the Coast Guard,. However, the nodal Ministry for oil spills is the Home Ministry. A classic case of All at Sea!! (PUN INTENDED)

36. The U.S. Homeland Security: We could well take a leaf out of the U.S Homeland security book, in their post 9/11 scenario. The U.S. Coast Guard is The Single Nodal Agency for all maritime aspects of their Homeland Security. In special cases, the U.S.Navy can also discharge the responsibilities of the Coast Guard. Their laws provide for such an eventuality.

37. In this light we need to enact Maritime security laws with a single nodal agency to counter the threats of piracy or armed robbery at sea as also Maritime Terrorism. National security is too serious to be dictated by parochial politics.


38. It is to be hoped, in the larger interests of National Security, the  M of D/ Navy/ Coast Guard will be brought into the loop while formulating security policies for the SSCP.


(A)  Maritime Related Terrorism Michael Richardson.

(B)  Maritime Terrorism:An Indian Perspective- B.Raman  Paper No:1154.

(C)  Ship in Wolf’s Clothing- VAdm (retd) A.K.Singh-Indian Express 30 Oct 2007.

(D)  Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea- http://www.oceanatl

(E)  http://www.imo. org

(F)  Sea Piracy in South Asia Dr.Vijay Sakhuja –

Paper No: 1259

(G)  http://www.iags. org.   (Nov/Dec 2004)

(H)  The Washington Post 01 Nov 2007.

(I)  The New Indian Express (Chennai) 02 Nov 2007.


Captain (Retd) H.Balakrishnan, I.N


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