Sea Transportation: October 26, 2002


: The Malaccan Straits link the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean and are critical to maritime trade, being the second busiest ocean highway in the world with up to 600 ships in both directions per day. An estimated 25 per cent of the world's crude oil is transported through the Malacca straits with some 45 crude oil tankers transiting the waterway each day, a number expected to rise to 59 per day by 2010. Similar increasing numbers of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers make the passage, the current 13 per day expected to rise to nearly 20 per day by 2010.

After several rounds of consultation between the United States, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, India and other littoral states, regular escorts for high-value goods in the straits were instituted in early 2002. The US and Indian Navy's joint operations indicate that Indian-US shared interests go well beyond the current crisis. Security patrol ships from the United States and India would sail from the opposite directions: according to the US-Indian accord, the US 7th Fleet's ship must enter the Straits of Malacca from the eastern passageway while the Indian navy ship will sail in from the Andaman Sea. 

The offshore patrol vessel INS Sharda (from the Kochi-based Southern Naval Command) was the first ship to offer escort services. Sharda initially carried out joint activities with the guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens (CG 63) so that they could better understand the coalition's needs and operations. Sharda soon took the lead in monitoring safe transits of a variety of U.S. noncombatant and merchant ships passing through the area. The Indians escorted US supply ships every eight to 10 days through the Straits of Malacca. During its deployment, the Sharda and it's onboard commando team made 12 cruises between Port Blair and Singapore. After a successful three-month operation, Sharda focused on other missions. 

She was replaced by the offshore patrol vessel INS Sukanya (based at the Eastern Naval Command headquarters at Visakhapatnam) and began patrolling the Straits in July for a three-month tour. With the end of the Sukanya's tour in October, Rear Adm. William D. Sullivan (on the staff of the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii) said that "Indian naval ships have demonstrated the highest standards of seamanship and combat readiness while providing safety and security to high-value U.S. ships supporting Operation Enduring Freedom".

Not everyone is ecstatic about the joint operations - the Malaysian and Indonesian navies are miffed that their naval units haven't been requested to patrol the area. They feel that US-Indian exclusion fails to recognize the two countries' capabilities in exterminating terrorists and pirates. Meanwhile, India has ambitions of being militarily relevant as far as the Persian Gulf and has convinced Oman to hold joint military exercises with India. - Adam Geibel 


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