February 14, 2008
New Delhi

PM Inaugurates Indian Ocean Naval Symposium Seminar - 2008

It is a matter of great privilege for me to be present with you on the occasion of the launch of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium This is a unique gathering of Chiefs of Navies and Heads of Maritime Security Organizations representing the littoral states of the Indian Ocean.

Spanning 28 million square kilometers, the Indian Ocean is host to a third of the world's population. The littoral states of the Indian Ocean account for 25% of the global landmass and 40% of the world's energy sources. They have a rich heritage and share close socio-cultural ties.

Above all, they are linked by a history of sea faring. A significant share of international trade passes through the sea-lanes of the region. Regrettably the Indian Ocean also accounts for 70% of the world's natural disasters.

These are all reasons why we must pool our resources and act for the common good of all. Your presence here is a testimony to your belief in the need for cooperative action.

Indian Ocean littoral States have witnessed rapid economic growth. These high levels of growth are translating into increased intra-regional trade and global trade, a significant portion of which is seaborne.

The sea-lanes of the region have thus emerged as one of the most important lines of communication in the world. Container handling at the ports of Colombo, Mumbai, Chittagong, Bangkok and Malaysia's Port Klang are registering double-digit growth rates. A growing percentage of the world's large merchant ships and bulk carrier ships fly an Asian flag. This expansion in trade and economic growth dictates the need to ensure the safety and security of the sea lines.

Recent years have seen a rise in crimes such as terrorism, smuggling, including of narcotics, arms and weapons, piracy, and robbery. These activities not only pose a threat to our growing naval commerce but also affect innocent fishermen and tourists. In addition there is the abominable practice of trafficking in human beings.

The perpetrators of these crimes are well organized and well-funded transnational crime syndicates who take full advantage of the vastness of the oceans. The need for cooperation among the Navies of the region in preventing such transnational crimes is therefore of paramount importance.

The monsoons play a vital role in the lives of the peoples of the Indian Ocean littoral states. They have also been pivotal in determining the sea routes that would transport precious cargo, be it spices from western India or rubber from the plantations of Malaysia.

Recent years have witnessed a marked rise in incidents of natural disasters. We look upon our Navies to protect our citizens from natural disasters and mitigate the effects on our coastal zones from phenomena like cyclones and tsunamis. Our coastal ecosystems sustain livelihoods and are host to a diverse species of marine life. We must have robust capabilities to deal with environmental emergencies.

Our coastal ecosystems sustain livelihoods and are host to a diverse species of marine life. The United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and the seas must be carried out. The Indian Ocean is a repository of rich fish and mineral resources. We should address the issues relating to navigation, conservation and management of these resources, and for the conservation and management of biological diversity of the sea-bed in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

A better understanding of the oceans through the application of marine science and technology, and greater synergy between scientific knowledge and decision making are necessary for the sustainable use and management of the oceans. India would be happy to share its experience with countries of the region in harnessing the resources of Indian Ocean for sustainable economic development.

The concept of maritime security needs to be viewed in the above background. It should ensure freedom from threats arising either in or from the sea. You, as the guardians of the seas, are well placed to deliberate on current and emerging threats, and develop a comprehensive cooperative framework of maritime security.

I also hope that the Symposium will harness the remarkable diversity among us, and reinforce the commonalities that bind us. It should provide a platform for discussions on how we can further accelerate the pace at which we are engaging each other. We need greater connectivity among us, not just in trade and commerce but of ideas, people and cultures.

This requires a consensus based approach, with a focus on pooling of resources and capacity building, information-exchanges and development of interoperability in doctrinal and operational terms.

You have a rich agenda before you. I am sure that with your professionalism and desire for mutually beneficial cooperation, the Symposium will come up with sound practical ideas to address our common challenges. The Symposium is an important milestone in our quest for a cooperative and inclusive world order.

India remains committed to an Indian Ocean region that is stable and peaceful. We would like to cooperate with all like minded countries so as to ensure the freedom of the seas for all nations and to deepen trade and economic linkages between the Indian Ocean Rim countries.

I wish you all success in your deliberations.