Maritime Security Challenges In Indian Ocean Region


The Indian Ocean is the third largest ocean in the world, after Pacific and Atlantic Ocean, covering an area of some 670,560,000 km2 (27,240,000 sq. mi) and is comprised of 36 littorals states.

The Indian Ocean region is encompassed of some 2.6 billion inhabitants, making up to 40 percent of the overall world population and accounts for nearly 10 percent of global GDP. The littoral states of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) have 80 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves and some 17 percent of natural gas.

In the 21st century, the IOR is most important trade route in the world for the movement of long-haul cargo and maritime traffic. Approximately 33 percent of global trade and 50 percent of the world’s container traffic traverses through the IOR trade routes.

Indian Ocean region is not only home to some of the most important maritime choke points of world commerce including the most important strait of Hormuz, Malacca and of Bab-el-Mandeb but also World’s major oil shipping lanes are located in the IOR.

These choke points are highly critical for global flow of trade and energy that’s why many regional and extra regional states have maintained their naval presence in the region. The littoral states of IOR along with extra regional states are increasingly concerned regarding security of the energy sea lanes of communication.

Maritime security in IOR:

In the 21st century, the IOR has become an epicenter of global politics, but due to the emergence of traditional and non-traditional security threats, the region has become less stable.

The competition among regional and extra-regional states to increase their sphere of influence in the IOR as well as the emergence of non-traditional security threats have exaggerated the security situation in the region. The limitations of the governments in their capacity to deal with maritime domain along with changing regional security situation has resulted in the increase of illicit activities in the Indian Ocean region.

Maritime security threats in IOR include the menace of piracy, human-trafficking, drug-trafficking, terrorism and other nontraditional security threats. Due to these threats, the maritime security interaction has increased among the national navies.

Ensuring security at sea has posed a daunting challenge to the existing maritime forces. The challenges and threats in the Indian Ocean Region are both traditional and non-traditional. In order to cope with these threats and challenges in the maritime realm, the role of both regional and extra-regional states is of immense importance.

As the economic activities are expanding in the maritime sphere, the states cannot neglect the threat of maritime terrorism, piracy, maritime pollution, illegal fishing, irregular migration through sea, small arms trafficking, illegal narcotic and human trafficking through oceans. Another important issue in the IOR is the Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The IUU fishing is not only depleting the fisheries but also fueling the perpetuation of illegal migration, maritime terrorism and human trafficking at sea.

In the 21st century no state can handle these security threats as it requires a naval capacity that currently no single state possesses. So in order to ensure security across the maritime domain in any region,n a multilateral collaboration is needed. The collaboration among the stakeholders is the most suitable way to overcome these overwhelming challenges.

The collaboration among the likeminded states will ultimately reduce the burden on a single state as it would ensure security and safety at the maritime domain by promoting trust among the states. The nature of security threats has changed to a greater extent.

In the maritime sector, the threats are nontraditional, multifaceted in nature and moreover the multi-directionality has made it harder for the states to predict and assess these threats. So in order to counter such threats in the IOR, there is a need of collaborative security mechanism.

Role of Pakistan Navy in maintaining Security in the IOR:

Pakistan’s economy is vastly depending on commerce which is linked with sea. Annually Pakistan imports some 20million ton oil from Middle East states via sea and most of the trade with rest of the international community also takes place through the Indian Ocean. Therefore, the security and safety of these energy lines and trade routes are of great importance for Pakistan.

Pakistan navy is playing a vital role in maintaining maritime security, safety, peace and protecting the national interests in the IOR. Pakistan navy has not only shown its capabilities in protecting the national maritime boundaries but has also been involved in several multilateral arrangements with likeminded states for the promotion of maritime security and safety at oceans.

Pakistan Navy joined the Multi-National Combined Task Force-150 in the year 2004, which was created for promotion of ‘Enduring Freedom’ at sea. Under the umbrella of CTF-150, Pakistan navy along with other regional navies have conducted theatre level maritime security operations against terror networks and other crime organizations.

AMAN exercises-2007 which is a series of multinational exercises is an initiative of Pakistan navy for the promotion of regional peace and stability in the Indian Ocean. The basic aim of the AMAN exercises is to counter maritime terrorism and other criminal activities in the maritime domain including piracy, arms smuggling, human trafficking etc.

In February 2019 the sixth AMAN series exercises “AMAN-19” was held in Karachi. Forty-six regional and extra regional states participated in these exercises. AMAN has provided states naval forces the opportunities identify area of common interests and mutual understanding on security issues in the IOR.

Pakistan navy is also part of CTF 151 which was created in 2009 to counter the menace of piracy in the western Indian Ocean. Since its establishment, Pakistan has commanded the CTF-151 for a record eight times. In order to counter illicit activities such as piracy, maritime terrorism, Pakistan Navy took the initiative in 2018 by establishing an independent Regional Maritime Security Patrols (RMSP).

When it comes to the defense of maritime frontiers of mother land, Pakistan Navy has always been proved highly vigilance. When the bilateral relations with arch rival India went to its lowest in the post-Palwama incident in Feb 2019, on March 4th 2019, one of Indian navy submarines was found in an effort to enter Pakistan’s EEZ but Pakistan Navy detected it timely and compelled it to move away. The incident shows the alertness and zeal of Pakistan Navy to defend the maritime borders of motherland.

(Zunaz Arif, is MPhil Scholar International Relations at National University of Modern Languages Islamabad. She can be reached at

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