This is a global distribution of the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre. Most of the masters and ex masters are aware that there is no sea area in the world that is not coordinated by MRCC in the world. Some MRCC or other is coordinating search and rescue across the globe.
The Search and Rescue Regions are promulgated by IMO. The delineation’s follow as far as practical the Flight Information Regions (FIR) and the ability of a nation to coordinate SAR in that region based on the resources available to it.
We have about 1 Lack merchant ships and about 160,000 fishing boats with 250,000 fishermen put to sea every day. We have search and rescue region of about 6 Million Km2.
The Indian SRR admeasures an area of about 6.1 million Km2. As seen on the screen, it extends right from longitude 60°E in the Arabian Sea to longitude 97°E in the Bay of Bengal down to latitude 6°S in the Indian Ocean.
In certain region we do not have any law but we are signatory to a SAR 79 convention where we have ratified that convention and the Ministry of Shipping has notified the coast guard and accordingly 3 MRCC have been set up at Mumbai, Chennai and Port Blair to receive various distress calls on the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDS) and we have the chain of maritime sub centers to co-ordinate in our rescue region.
Search & Rescue Infrastructure
We have radio sub system to receive the maritime distress frequencies. In the old days it was 500 KHz and it is not anymore and with the advent of the GMDSS we have various frequencies in each band, which are monitored, and how is that connected with piracy? The merchant master at sea uses the same distress method to send the piracy call to land based authority, i.e., MRCC.
Then thereafter the Governments have come out with The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP). The Indian Coast Guard is the focal point, i.e., MRCC Chennai is the focal point to implement measures in the ReCAAP.
There were incidents in 2010 when attempts have taken place close to our waters. These are not in our waters but close to our waters. This is beyond our EEZ. Thereafter joint war council was held and HRA was shifted from 54° to 78° in 2010. Now after that they implemented BMP4. In 2011 there were some incidents which took place in our waters and again in 2011 there were incidents off the Somali coast. This was the last incident which took place in the Indo Maldivian waters and MV Eglantine was the last vessel and during this time there was a talk amongst the western countries that we will shift the HRA. There was a talk of shifting the HRA because by this time India had taken across various forums for the shifting of HRA. Things went on and the MV Eglantine was hijacked from the Indo-Maldivian waters and taken towards Somalia. Iranian Navy came all the way from Iran and intercepted this vessel before it was hijacked fully. The entire west coast of India is a very good fishing ground so you have about 75000 fishing vessels operating. These are the various difficulties. The master is entering the area and you are telling him there are various nets put up by the fishermen like trawling etc and when they see a ship they try to safeguard the vessel and because of HRA coast to coast.
There are some incidents including in infamous MT Enrica Lexie incident. Incident report as per the IMO circular 133 and 134, Master has to inform by the fastest means of communication to the coastal state that is RCC or MRCC. In the MT Enrica Lexie case, he never informed. He informed to UKMTU. It is on record then thereafter we got report when the fishermen started coming in the mobile range and from the Police Station. Because of good frame work and coastal security in India post 2011, within 5 to 10 minutes information came to our MRSC, Cochin. In another 10 minutes it came to MRCC and that is the time we saw the closest ship and the first ship we contacted was MT Enrica Lexie and we asked the master ‘did you fire on any pirates?’ He said he fired. We told him he should have sent instant report. He said he sent the instant report. I said please forward it and he forwarded it. I said please come to Cochin, we want to investigate further and he came and he never went back. There are some incidents of mistaken identify which have taken place post MT Enrica Lexie. What happens in piracy is robbery and petty is reported as piracy. Most of the time the masters fail to communicate in real time to the centers on the coast due to fear of being detained, commercial reasons etc. Because as per our laws unless the master registers a complaint with the local police station, the incident cannot be investigated further.
The victim ship has to report to the coastal authorities which never happens. The ship leaves and then the incident is reported to the CSO and thereafter the CSO makes instant report to IMBKL and IMBKL by the time they go to investigate, the ship has already out in most of the cases. In most of the cases, the victim ship never reports the case. The coastal states have to make a report to IMO. Unless we get the reports in time, the maritime administrator cannot write to IMO about the brief facts. If the incidents are reported in real time, we can investigate. We have about 2-3 patrolling boats with the coast guard at any given time. There are 3-4 ships out at sea. If the master reports to us in real time, we can divert at-sea ship to that place. As per BMP4, master should take photographs and send it to us. We can correlate the photographs and advise the master that these are fishing boats or these are not fishing boats.
One master reported he found AK 47. I asked the master what binocular he is using to identify the weapon from 2 n.miles as the distance is about 4 kms and nobody can see with the naked eye.
There was one suspicious incident investigated in the Indo-Maldivian waters – Sea Pioneer. He said it is a mother craft of pirates. Coast guard was launched for investigation. On investigation, we found that it was a Maldives fishing craft. Thereafter we photographed and informed that it is Sea Pioneer and this is what you have seen.
In 2010-2011, Piracy got shifted from Somalia to West Coast of Africa and Strait of Malacca. There are no pirates in our waters. No incidents of piracy in Lakshadeep in 2012. Only a few cases of mistaken identity are reported.
Due to the complex maritime scenario post HRA the entire traffic shifted coast to coast. The normal routes are of Hormuz and the Suez routes.
Now the ships have started moving directly. Why has this happened because they are more confident! Probably, because they are taking in guards. Last 2 years we have seen a trend of them going directly. Post MT Enrica Lexie, we brought MS Notice 7 with the DG Shipping. We brought in our special ReCAAP report for fishing activities at sea near our area. Then we put a web page about fishing in the Indian waters on NATO website. You have to build awareness to the merchant ships. We have been putting all our real time data through our administrators to the people who go out to challenge India for delimitation.
Commandant N.V. Ramarao made MRCC Mumbai as the nodal MRCC for COSPAS SARSAT distress alerts in the INMCC (Indian Mission Control Centre). Focal point of India on matters relating to real-time anti-piracy ops in collaboration with ReCAAP, IMB-KL, MSCHOA, UKMTO, EUNAVFOR. He has coordinated rescue of over 1108 lives in 385 missions in four years in ISRR West (spanning an area of 2.6 million km2) and adjoining waters. Analysed and identified the fleeing merchant vessel, MT Enrica Lexie. He was instrumental in setting up a Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) at MRCC Mumbai by harmonising AIS feeds from US Government Department of Transportation’s Maritime Safety and Security Information System (MSSIS), local AIS terminal and the Satellite based AIS feed from ISSDC, ISRO. He represented India at INDO-US Cooperation “Safeguarding Prosperity in the Indian Ocean” organised by Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies, Observer Research Foundation at Mumbai, India. He conducted Indo-Sri Lankan-Maldives Trilateral SAR training under the aegis of Ministry of External Affairs at Mumbai.