Over 50 per cent of the fishing vessels operating near the major ports on the country's western coast are unregistered, posing a threat to India's maritime security.
Most of these ports are compliant with the International Ship and Port Facility Security code, which prescribes the responsibilities of the government, shipping companies, shipboard personnel and port personnel to detect security threats and take preventative measures. The code was introduced by the government after the 9/11 attacks on the US.
Still, the menace of unregistered boats persists. "Unregistered fishing boats neither have any proper identification number nor do their crews have any identity card. If left unchecked, these vessels can be used for any kind of subversive activities in India," said a senior official at Mormugoa Port. All these vessels should be compulsorily registered with the port authorities, he added.
In the fishing jetty at Mormugoa Port, there are nearly 250 fishing vessels, of which nearly 50 per cent are unregistered, according to a port official. Despite repeated request from the port authorities to relocate the fishing jetty from the port area, nothing has been done due to various political issues.
"We have our own internal security arrangements and co-ordinate with various security agencies. However, still a lot has to be done to enhance the maritime security in India," a senior Kandla Port official added.
Porous borders along the International Maritime Boundary Line bordering Pakistan and lack of enough maritime security personnel have made ports located on the western coast further vulnerable to subversive activities. There are around 133 ports located along India's western coast, spread over five states and two Union Territories.
According to Coast Guard sources, minor ports like Oka, Veraval and Porbandar located at the Saurashtra coast have the worst security in place. These ports handle commodities like oil, coal, pig iron, raw bauxite, wheat, sulphur, coke, LPG and fertilisers, among others. Adjacent to these ports in the Rann of Kutch, which is rich in marine species, over 200 vessels can be found fishing in the area on a daily basis.
"Since this area is rich in marine species, sometimes even fishing vessels from the Pakistan side tend to cross our border. However, with our limited resources and personnel, it is not possible to check every vessel. So we do only a random check," said a Coast Guard official.