India, Pakistan resume maritime security dialogue in New Delhi

India Pakistan flags Representational image | Reuters

On a day when militants attacked an army camp in Pulwama district, close to the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, a four member delegation of Pakistan Maritime Security Agency is in New Delhi for bilateral dialogue.

Head of Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) Rear Admiral Zaka Ur Rehman arrived in India to hold annual maritime dialogue with his Indian counterpart Director General of Coast Guard Rajender Singh.

The annual maritime dialogue between the two coastal security agencies could not take place last year after India decided to put a hold on the talks due to the diplomatic unease caused by death sentence awarded to former Indian navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav by Pakistani military court. This year, India sent an invitation to Pakistan to attend the annual maritime dialogue.

During the four hour long meeting, also attended by officials from defence ministry and external affairs ministry as well, Indian side reiterated the need for instituting Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) for immediate release and repatriation of the fishermen who cross the international maritime boundary line inadvertently. In 2017, PMSA apprehended around 400 Indian fishermen and seized 65 fishing boats.

"As the issue needs to be approached in a humanitarian context, we wanted to release the arrested fishermen directly instead of taking them for police custody. Involvement of police authorities take long time and require intervention of ministry of foreign affairs," said a defence official.

Moreover, expeditious exchange of the information about arrest of fishermen by both sides was also raised in the meeting, according to the Coast Guard official.

Officials added that both sides also agreed to conduct search and rescue communications exercise between the Rescue Coordination Centres to validate the SOPs for efficient conduct of rescue of distressed vessels or crew at sea.

Besides, recognising the need for collaboration for preservation and protection of marine environment, both sides agreed to explore opportunities for cooperation in the field of oil spill response at sea in line with the MoU signed recently by India with the South Asian Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP).

This annual meeting is a significant link between the two maritime agencies for addressing issues pertaining to maritime boundary violations by fishermen and enhancing cooperation in the domain of maritime search and rescue and marine environment pollution.

The Indian Coast Guards and PMSA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on 3 October, 2005 that came into effect on 16 March 2006, which envisaged cooperation between ICG and PMSA through exchange of information on Exclusive Economic Zone violations, apprehended vessels, marine pollution, natural disasters/calamities, combating smuggling, illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs and piracy, and coordination in search and rescue and return sea passage.

It also established a communication link which is operational. Under the provisions of the MOU, Directors General of ICG and PMSA meet periodically. The MoU was extended for five years in 2016.