Piracy zones planned to cut shipping risk cover

Indian Ocean to lose its war-like zone tag

With Somalian pirates pinching in the Indian maritime commerce, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on Friday has proposed piracy-mapping of the Indian Ocean based on actual incidents that may aid in reducing the insurance premium on Indian shipping companies in the long run.

“There is a need to be more precise in defining high-risk areas in Indian Ocean based on the actual incidents of piracy as this impacts adversely on insurance premiums and adds to the cost of shipping in our region,” Khurshid said at a meeting of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation.

High insurance premium for cargo ships coming to India and neighbouring countries was a matter of economic concerns for the government since 2008 when Lloyds London – the world's largest underwriters for merchant shipping – designated Indian Ocean piracy region as “war-risk zone” increasing insurance premium for ships that transit.

This impacted Indian merchant shipping which not only brought cargo to Indian ports but also ferry oil and goods to South Asia. Somali pirates who initially restricted their operations closer to the African coast, expanded their footprints in Indian Ocean in the wake of enhanced patrolling in the Gulf of Aden by various international agencies and national navies.

The pirates looked eastward and explored opportunities in shipping lines closer to Indian coastline. Subsequently, Indian Navy swung into action intensifying its anti-piracy patrol closer to Indian shore sometimes, at the cost of its blue water deployment.

Piracy attempts near India increased from the middle of November in 2010. But with Navy strengthening its patrols, sea lanes in India's vicinity have remained incident-free since April 2011, sources told Deccan Herald.

The number of piracy attempts in Indian Ocean was reduced to 70 (till date) in 2012 from 237 in 2011 and 219 in 2010, sources said.

19 piracy zones

The significant drop possibly prompted Khurshid to suggest the ambitious piracy-zonation programme to 19 other littoral nations represented by their foreign ministers in the meeting. The proposal is likely to be discussed again at a seminar on maritime security, which India will host in early 2013.

Even though Lloyds, in the last couple of years, did not pay any heed to the claim of lowering insurance premium by Indian shipping companies, entry of USA as an observer in this regional forum may change the equation this time.

“USA will be our sixth dialogue partner. It will add value to our discussions and our views will be endorsed globally,” said the Indian minister, who chaired the 12th meeting of the council of minister for IOR-ARC. Australia will be the new chairman of this forum.

USA's interest in this regional forum is a manifestation of its growing interest in the region, which carried 80 per cent of world's sea-borne trade, Khurshid said.

Washington has recently announced its plan to shift 60 per cent of its naval assets in the Asia-Pacific by 2020.

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