The United Service Institution of India (USI), and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD), Singapore organized an international multi-lateral table-top exercise (TTX) for the littoral countries of the Bay of Bengal on 22-23 Nov 2022 at the USI premises in New Delhi. USI is a 152 years old Tri-Service think tank dealing with comprehensive strategic security issues, and HD works to prevent and resolve armed conflicts around the world through mediation and discreet diplomacy.
The objectives of the TTX were to: (i) build trust and demonstrate potential for greater cooperation between the littoral states, (ii) increase participants’ understanding of the commonalities and differences in approaches of the maritime Law Enforcement Agencies (MLEAs) of littoral states and identify needs for – and gaps in – cooperation and establishment of crisis management mechanisms/standard operating principles. MLEAs from Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand attended the TTX along with experts and fisheries stakeholders.
Mr. Rajdeep Mukherjee, Policy analyst, BOBP-IGO attended the TTX and highlighted the need for humanitarian treatment of fishers at sea and improving safety at sea while calling for enhance multilateral coordination in the areas of IUU fishing, search and rescue operations. He also emphasized the need for proper documentation in the case of IUU fishing, especially in the instances where a fishing vessel is suspected to involve in non-fishing illegal activity such as drug smuggling, arm running, etc., which were welcomed by the TTX.
Inaugurating the TTX, National Maritime Security Coordinator of India, Vice Admiral G. Ashok Kumar PVSM, AVSM, VSM, said that Bay of Bengal is facing various non-conventional (non-military) threats such as climate change, oil spill, drug smuggling, gun running, and IUU fishing for which MLEAs involvement is required. Almost every NCT is transnational in nature and needs a multinational approach. He said that while dealing with the conventional (military) threat, a multilateral approach may be difficult, however, it can be done for non-conventional threats. He highlighted that the BIMSTEC can play an effective role in this regard.
The TTX concluded with the call for improved communication between the MLEAs, institutionalizing regular exchange between the governments on NCTs, the need for an RFMO in the Bay of Bengal, and partnering with the fisher community through awareness raising.