In India, a Motorcycle Rally for Maritime Security Awareness

File image: Indian motorcycle rally for charitable causes (courtesy Rotary Club)

By MarEx 2016-01-22 18:53:51

Among its other public relations activities, the Indian Coast Guard has one novel approach to maritime community engagement: the motorcycle rally.

On January 22, Indian Coast Guard, marine police and fisheries officials kicked off their annual motorcycle tour for maritime domain awareness in the state of West Bengal, near Kolkata.

The rally, which visits small fishing villages along hundreds of miles of coastline, comes with associated activities like medical checkups and community meetings. It is intended to raise awareness of maritime security concerns among fishermen in small hamlets along the coast. Previous years' rallies have visited fishermen in Tamil Nadu, where the waters are the scene of frequent conflict over fishing rights with neighboring Sri Lanka, and Gujarat, where India's territorial waters border regional rival Pakistan.

The Indian armed forces and maritime police say that they need to recruit fishermen as their “eyes and ears” in their territorial waters, and the need is not abstract. Indian Navy and Coast Guard vessels often intercept drug smuggling boats near the international maritime boundary line with Pakistan, and in Tamil Nadu, fishermen are involved in a running dispute over rights and access with Sri Lanka. Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen are often detained by each other's authorities over alleged boundary crossings.

In the latest development in that disagreement, over 125 Indian fishermen were arrested in November by Sri Lankan forces and held; Indian authorities secured their release, and the fishermen were brought back to Indian shores by Coast Guard vessels, but their boats and equipment were confiscated by Sri Lankan forces and not returned. Sri Lanka often accuses Tamil Nadu fishermen of straying across the international boundary line, but the fishermen maintain that they are simply following their traditional patterns. The dispute centers around the island of Katchatheevu, historically part of Tamil Nadu, which was ceded to Sri Lanka in the 1970s; Indian authorities have encouraged fishermen to stay within the current political boundary.

But the Coast Guard motorcycle tour is not concerned with security and maritime disputes alone. Authorities are also using the stops as a way to build rapport with fishing communities and to provide education in lifesaving and maritime safety, in addition to medical services provided by partner agencies.