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Maritime Dimensions Of 9/11: An Analysis On Tenth Anniversary Of Attack On WTC


By R.S.Vasan


The unconventional attack by manned civil aircraft that were turned in to aerial missiles on American soil that happened a decade ago changed the way the world looked at terrorism. This even took USA and the coalition forces in hunt of Al Queda as part of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). In addition to the exclusive handling of the homeland security in USA by a dedicated Department of Homeland Security (DHS), billions of dollars has been spent on shoring up security around the world and instituting new procedures for security in all the four dimensions (land, air, water and cyber).Enormous money has been spent also on improving technology and organizations. This paper aims to specifically examine the issues of maritime preparedness post 9/11.

United States
United States

It is the fear that that LNG carriers, tankers carrying volatile cargo or any other floating contraption could be taken over by terrorists and used as weapons of destruction against ports, installations and vital assets that prompted the IMO to consider a global initiative to protect ships and ports. The fact that USA was extremely wary of facing similar attacks through the medium of the seas prompted USA to take lead initiatives to get the maritime community together to work out the modalities by which such attacks could be thwarted. However it needs to be remembered that there were many attacks against sea targets in Sri Lankan waters by the LTTE during the 80’s and 90’s. Also, there were two major attacks in October 2000 and October 2002 on USS Cole and MV Limburg respectively in the Gulf of Aden. Seventeen crew members died in the suicide attack on a billion dollar Aegis class warship of the US demonstrating the vulnerability of even high value warships to asymmetric attacks. It was analysed that the suicide attack pattern followed by the Al Queda volunteers had the foot print of LTTE methods. America seems to have woken up to the reality of such attacks only after the attack on its own soil and was determined to prevent attacks of all forms over its citizens and property .

Accordingly, a major maritime conference was conducted in December 2002 under the aegis of International Maritime Organization (IMO) to examine the ways by which ships and ports could be better protected against terrorist attacks. It was agreed by the signatory nations that a separate code called the International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) code would govern the conditions for operation by ships and ports. Accordingly, the ISPS came in to being and the entry in to force date was decided as 01 July 2004. Also in order to ensure that there were no delays in implementation of the scheme, it was introduced as an extension to the Safety of Lives at Sea (SOLAS) provisions were added to chapter V and XI. The moment it was added as a prerequisite for enhancing safety and security of ships and crew, it became easier for implementation of the provisions on a fast track.

The salient features of the ISPS were that it would be applicable to those ships above 500 GRT (Gross Registered Tonnage) and passenger vessels engaged in international voyage. Such ships were also required to comply with the mandatory provisions of Part A of the code which included carriage of Automated Identification System (AIS), maintenance of the Continuous Synopsis Record (CSR) which provided all the details of the ship. The ships were also to be fitted with Ship Security Alert Systems (SSAS) in two locations that would be known to the master and some crew. The SSAS provided an option to the Master of the vessel to alert the concerned Law Enforcement Agency (LEA) in case of any manifestation of threat in any form. The ship was required to carry a Ship Safety Officer (SSO) while the port trained and provided a Port Facility Safety Officer (PFSO) and the company was required to have a Company Security Officer. These officers were required to coordinate all activities depending on the threat levels on a ship or in a port. Accordingly three threat levels were identified commensurate with the level of anticipated threat. The normal peace time level was at level one and would be changed to level 2 and 3 depending on the intelligence inputs and the expected levels of threat at a port. It must be highlighted here that all the Indian major ports post 26/11 have remained at level 2 due to the fears of a repeat of Mumbai terror attacks that were launched by the sea routes by Pakistani terrorists. This has resulted in a certain degree of dilution in the levels of preparedness as it would be physically impossible to maintain sustained high levels of preparedness for years on end.

The United States was determined to ensure that the seas were not used to attack America. Accordingly, US decided to implement the provisions to the letter. It demanded that all the data regarding a ship entering a US port pass all details at least 96 hours in advance which allowed it to examine all the data well before the ship entering its waters and allow for inspection of suspect ships or cargo or personnel. While there have been attempts to carry out attacks on American soil, by strict implementation, better intelligence and technology America has ensured that no attack takes place in any medium. In comparison, India which is also a signatory to the ISPS has a poor track record in terms of enforcing maritime security. In addition to the daring terrorist attacks on Mumbai on 26/11/2008, there have been many incidents that have shown the maritime security architecture in poor light. Some of the incidents have been covered in SAAG paper titled “Whither Maritme Security” available at


The ISPS was signed by over 169 nations who thereafter were designated as the contracting governments. The contracting government had certain obligations to the IMO and its own ships and ports in terms of bringing up the preparedness levels across the board and ensuring that there was no compromise in safety, security and training standards. According to the ISPS, the contracting government is also required to nominate a Recognised Security Officer (RSO) who is well versed in security matters. Unfortunately, in the case of India, a decision that was totally violative of the very definition of the RSO was taken due to turf wars and the disinclination of the DG Shipping to allow either the Navy or the Coast Guard to be assigned this task. Accordinlgy, Indian Register of Shipping (IRS) a ship survey agency was nominated as the RSO thus defeating the very purpose of providing the necessary security inputs. IRS is well equipped to carry out ship inspections and carry out surveys and inspections which aided safety but had no knowledge on security matters which was beyond its purview. For a nation that is not very serious about maritime security, this hardly comes as a surprise. The author in his capacity as the Regional Commander of the Coast Guard from 2000 to 2003 did represent about the unwiseness of such a move. The Coast Guard HQ also put up the points and however, the Government yielded to the views of Ministry of Shipping and took a decision that was not in consonance with the provisions of the ISPS statutory obligations. The Coast Guard did extend all support to the IRS thereafter to ensure that Indian ports did not fail to meet the deadline for implementation as it would have affected mercantile marine trade.

A major achievement for the ISPS has been the increased control on Flags of Convenience (FOC) ships which were registered in countries such as Panama, Liberia and Hondura which promoted marine trade by allowing cheap options for owners in terms of registration and ownership costs. However, these FOC ships also had facilitated many illegal activities. Records of LTTE owned ships indicate that they freely transported military hardware from Southeastern countries during the many Eelam wars fought with the Sri Lankan Military. The success of the SL Navy has been credited to increased surveillance and control on FOC ships in addition to better intelligence on the activities of these ships.

In addition to the ISPS, it was also felt necessary to ensure that the seas are prevented from being used for proliferation. Accordingly, Proliferation Security Initiatives (PSI) were introduced which allowed US led forces to intercept and examine any ship by mutual agreement to prevent transportation of weapons of mass destruction, delivery systems and clandestine transfer of nuclear technology and equipment. Despite, the US insistence on India joining the PSI, India has thus far resisted the invitation on grounds of unequal application of the provisions of PSI that infringe on sovereignty of a nation.

With the increasing share of container traffic and also some recorded incidents of use of containers for smuggling of weapons, illegal immigrants, terrorists, contraband etc., there was a need felt for enforcing Container Security Initiative(CSI) . Essentially, the idea was to ensure that the container was inspected from the place of origin till destination and monitored by electronic and technological means to ensure that there was no tampering and also the entire supply chain was kept under surveillance. It did entail use of expensive scanners and cumbersome procedures to ensure that containers were not converted to transportation means for unwanted cargo or personnel.

There has also been a great degree of attention being given post 9/11 to achieving total Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) at national, regional and global levels. Essentially, MDA would be achieved by providing an effective C4ISR (Command. Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance)architecture. Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance(ISR) component has been defined as an activity that synchronizes and integrates the planning and operation of sensors, assets, and processing, exploitation, and dissemination systems in direct support of current and future operations. This is an integrated intelligence and operations function and India has many miles to cover before it can claim to possess an effective system to prevent terrorist designs from the medium of the seas. It also has to sort out the issues of coordination, cooperation and intelligence sharing amongst the stake holders in the maritime arena. Despite the Indian Navy being made the nodal agency, not all the agencies are yet cooperating and the slip is showing in many of the maritime incidents in our waters.

The ISPS which came about nearly three years after 9/11 entered the eight year on 01 July 2011. An assessment of the efficacy of ISPS brings out that it has enhanced the levels of awareness on security matters both in ports and onboard ships.. It has added to the cost of security and also the transportation costs due to increased spending on equipment, training and other such mandatory provisions. The crew onboard feel that they do not enjoy the same freedom as in the past and many visits in foreign and even Indian ports are restricted. Such curbs on movement has made them remark caustically that one now “Joins the Navy not to see the world but to see the Ports where one does not even step ashore” The increased requirement of scrutiny of personnel both at airports and seaports and across land borders have been seen as an excuse for profiling of personnel based on race, religion and nationality. While USA as a continent has ensured that its shores are protected, nations like India have a long way to tackling the threat from the seas. The ISPS demands the registration, identification and monitoring of only those vessels above 500 tonnes . The threat today comes largely from small unregistered vessels including fishing vessels. We have not been able to implement the compulsory registration and monitoring for our fishing vessels due to political reasons. There is a lot of reservation about using the identification systems as it would then ensure that the vessel so fitted does not engage in unlawful activities including crossing over to the water of adjacent countries. Thus there is great reluctance on part of the fishermen who do not want to be monitored. Also, the costs of such equipment need to be absorbed by both the state and the Centre.

The greatest scourge of the present decade has been the increased incidences of piracy. While the prevalence of piracy in the Malacca Straits was of great concern in the last decade, the collective collaborative efforts of the Littoral countries of the region has yielded results and the incidents of piracy have come down to single digit figures in the last three plus years. The Piracy Reporting Center (PRC) which was established in Kuala Lampur collates all the information and provides real time information on the incidents and also builds up facts and figures. Likewise, the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) is the first regional government-to-government agreement to promote and enhance cooperation against piracy and armed robbery in Asia. To ensure that data is collated and shared, there are dedicated Data Fusion Centers such as the Information Fusion Center located in the Changi naval base in Singapore. India needs to have similar arrangements for monitoring the activities in its own waters and areas of responsibility .In addition it should be able to access all the information collected by all the DFCs in real time to ensure that it is able to prevent terrorist designs.

However; the increased incidences of piracy in Somali waters have caused the greatest worry to sea farers. Despite the presence of multinational forces and many organizational efforts the incidences of piracy have assumed alarming proportions. The ransom money paid has gradually gone up from a mere 1,50,00 USD in 2005 to 10mn USD in end 2010. Even on date there are over 50 vessels of different description and about 650 crew held hostage by the Somali pirates. From the Indian point of view some attacks which took place closer to the Indian coast have raised serious concerns about the security of our off shore Islands and our coast. There have always been fears that it will not be too long before the pirates turn terrorists due to infiltration and indoctrination of jihadi elements. This would spell doom for the maritime enterprise and take us back to the days immediately post 9/11, when it was feared that the maritime domain would be used for terrorist acts. With all the sophisticated units of the navies of the world being present in the areas of interest, the pirates have been getting away with daring attacks and takeover of ships. While it is being done today for the millions of dollars at stake, when they would join hands with terrorists to promote their agenda will remain a matter of conjecture and concern.

In conclusion, while many measures have been implemented in the waters of the world, there are lurking dangers in the form of maritime terrorism, armed robbery and piracy. It appears that despite all the measures implemented, the pirates and terrorists are getting better of the security agencies and have been able to use the seas without fear for furthering their ends. Measures such as the ISPS, PSI and CSI have met with qualified success depending on who is implementing it and where. Also there is no uniform application of the measures as some have been solely and unilaterally applied by the only super power. The coordinated action against piracy in the Somali waters has met with limited success due to many reasons which form part of another discussion.

In the Indian context, while ISPS has been implemented, there is a lot that needs to be done in terms of enhancing our maritime security preparedness. As was brought out in the explosion near the Delhi high court on 07 September 2011 that killed 11 innocent people, there is lack of seriousness in even installing surveillance equipment. The coastal radar network and many schemes for monitoring coastal traffic are being implemented at a snail’s pace. It is a sad reflection of the state of affairs that some of the expensive patrol boats which were provided to various state governments are rusting due to lack of trained man power and maintenance.

The issue of registering, regulating and monitoring hundreds of thousands of small vessels including fishing vessels is a daunting task which would not see the end of the day unless there is political will to implement some of the recommendations irrespective of how unpleasant they are. Technology, manpower, training and operational gaps in the maritime security architecture need to be sorted out on war footing. The incidences of undetected ships which have drifted towards, incidences of collision resulting in maritime environmental disaster and acts of piracy are on the increase and unless the GoI and the maritime agencies exhibit greater commitment and resolve, India’s sea borders remain as porous as they were prior to 26/11 and are tempting to those with terrorist designs on our borders. Above all there is a need to institutionally sort out the issues of intelligence, information sharing and coordination amongst the competing agencies under different ministries but operating and with interests in the same medium of the seas. Security of our coast, coastal cities, infrastructure and assets can only be ensured by a robust security architecture at sea that extends to the outer limits of our Exclusive Economic Zone and beyond.


SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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