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India’s Information Fusion Centre to coordinate Quad initiative to counter ‘dark shipping’ in the Indo-Pacific

A navy ship during the Colombo Security Conclave (CSC) between maritime security agencies of India, Maldives and Sri Lanka in the Arabian Sea in 2021 (Photo: ANI)

On Tuesday, the four-member Quadrilateral Security Dialogue launched the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA). The new initiative will allow tracking of “dark shipping”—illegal fishing and unregulated fishing.

In a statement, the White House said: "This initiative will transform the ability of partners in the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean region to fully monitor the waters on their shores and, in turn, to uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific. Quad countries are committed to contributing to the region’s maritime domain awareness—a fundamental requirement for peace, stability, and prosperity—through an investment in IPMDA over five years".

Under the initiative, three regions—the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean region—of the Indo-Pacific will be integrated for an almost real-time and cost-effective maritime domain awareness.

The India-based Information Fusion Center-Indian Ocean Region will coordinate with similar other centers in the region to paint a clear picture of maritime activity in the Indo-Pacific oceans.

The White House added: "The benefit of this maritime initiative will allow tracking of dark shipping and other tactical-level activities, such as rendezvous at sea, as well as improve partners' ability to respond to climate and humanitarian events and to protect their fisheries, which are vital to many Indo-Pacific economies".

"Dark ships" are vessels that switch off their Automatic Identification System (AIS) to carry out activities without being undetected.

The best example from recent months is the Hippo Spirit—a Chinese ship that brought contaminated organic fertiliser from Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group company to Sri Lanka in September 2021. After Sri Lanka found harmful pathogens in the fertiliser and rejected the cargo, the ship set sail for China. Reportedly, it switched off its AIS in the Malacca Straits near Singapore and came back to Sri Lanka under a new name—Seiyo Explorer, after a few days to pressure the island nation to take the contaminated fertiliser.

Witnessing the ship's suspicious activities and pressure tactics, Colombo put its foot down and totally rejected the shipment.

In another example, huge trawlers from China have reportedly cleaned up marine life in the Pakistani coast in the Arabian Sea, setting off a rebellion among the fishermen in Balochistan. Repeated protests from the fishermen forced the Pakistani parliament to take up the issue in Islamabad and pass a resolution to prevent Chinese trawlers from harming the seas and the livelihoods of the Baloch fishing community.

China has also been found harassing Taiwan by sucking out sand from Taiwanese waters through its giant dredger ships. Hundreds of gigantic Chinese ships—of 2,000 tonnes each suck out the sand from the ocean floor damaging marine life and harming ecology of Taiwan islands.

Through the maritime security initiative, the participating countries will be able to uphold the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy advocated by the Quad with better monitoring and coordination of the seas.

Among other initiatives, the Quad countries have set up the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) to boost four areas—digital economy, supply chains, clean energy infrastructure and anti-corruption measures.