Indian Ocean Naval Symposium Brings Together Regional Navies

‘IONS as a Catalyst for SAGAR’, was the theme for this year’s Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), in line with the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – ‘SAGAR’. The 10th edition of the event that has been looking for ways to assuming a larger role for cooperation among the littoral states of the Indian Ocean, attended by 26 regional and global navies, was held at the Lulu Bolgatty International Convention Centre in Kochi on 13 & 14 November 2018 with the aims to discuss maritime issues pertaining to cooperative capacity-building to deal with common security concerns in the region.

‘SAGAR’ that stands for the ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region’, is in consonance with India’s ‘Act East’ policy and the nation’s diplomatic, economic and military outreach in the region.

Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), launched by India in February 2008, is a voluntary initiative that seeks to increase maritime co-operation among navies of the littoral states of the Indian Ocean Region by providing an open and inclusive forum for discussion of regionally relevant maritime issues. In the process, it endeavours to generate a flow of information between naval professionals that would lead to common understanding and possibly cooperative solutions on the way ahead. There are 32 (23 members and 9 observers) Navies of the IONS which have been geographically grouped into the following four sub- regions or the littoral (the part of a sea, lake or river that is close to the shore) zones:

  • South Asian Littorals: Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Pakistan, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, and the U.K.
  • West Asian Littorals: Iran, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and UAE
  • East African Littorals: France, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa, and Tanzania
  • South East Asian and Australian Littorals: Australia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Timor Leste
  • Observer countries: China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Madagascar, the Netherlands, Russia, and Spain

IONS’ biennial meetings among the littoral states of the Indian Ocean region have been held ever since its launch. Apart from its series of symposiums, it conducts numerous other activities like workshops, essay competitions and lectures to promote its objective.

IONS’ multi-naval forum has been active for a decade with a rotating chairmanship which Iran currently leads. This has been the reason, for example, for the exclusion of the US from the forum, on the consistent negative vote of Iran. Pakistan did not participate at the tenth anniversary celebrations.

Indian Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba, Chief Guest for the inauguration of 10th edition of the event said the IONS symposium was an “extension of the naval family” and underlined the need to keep the Indian Ocean waters safe given their importance to the history and growth of states in the ocean’s periphery and added “The seas are too large for any one navy to secure single-handedly.”

Iranian Navy Chief Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi along with many other members expressed that extra regional forces are now needed to maintain peace and stability in the region. Khanzadi called for a new working group to discuss the future of maritime security in the Indian Ocean Region and said that the maritime environment was changing and urged all Indian Ocean littorals to collectively take responsibility for the region’s security. Beyond a common charter to mitigate common threats like non state actors and calamities, following suggestions were placed for consensus in forum:

  • A standing force of the IONS members be raised that could look after maritime security in the region.
  • A full-scale exercise based on humanitarian relief operations that could see the participation of several member states should be undertaken.
  • Common grounds for training of personnel under the IONS initiative should be found.

India is setting up a new centre for monitoring commercial traffic in the Indian Ocean Region and has also invited member states of IONS to participate and receive information for keeping track of vessel movements.

Indian Ocean Region Information Fusion Centre (IOR-IFC) to have actionable information at hand in case of any threat to regional security is being inaugurated next month and will gather information on merchant shipping from 18 nations in the region that can be shared with ‘like-minded’ states.

Indian Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba, along with Rear Admiral Khanzadi and Kerala Fisheries Minister J. Mercykutty Amma, released on the 13 November 2018 a special cover brought out by India Post to mark the occasion.

The special cover carries a map of the Indian Ocean and littoral countries of the IOR, signifying the geopolitical importance of the region. It also has a sail-boat that majestically symbolises the importance of ancient trade routes used by the natives of the region to establish trade and socio-cultural links with the countries in the region.

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