August 7, 2022
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A critical review of Indian Coast Guard

India’s geographic significance in the Indian Ocean and its natural resources with a long coastline and islands has generated extensive opportunities. On the other hand, it leads to vast maritime security and safety challenges. Immediately after independence formalizing the trading channel lingered due to the policies framed. By then the requirement of gold and emerging electronics was high. This led to an increase in smuggling and illegal trade in the country which ultimately resulted in revenue loss. Internationally the UNCLOS negotiation on the maritime zones was escalating which gave the country increased challenges in maritime and coastal security.

‘Maritime security’ is for protecting natural resources in maritime zones, the management of international boundaries, economic development, human security and national sovereignty. ‘Costal security’ is a subdivision of maritime security where it includes border management, island security, law enforcement, the security of the port, the security of vessels and people engaged in maritime activities.

Why do we need maritime security?

Marine terrorism has been witnessed for more than five decades where it all started when Spanish and Portuguese hijacked the cruise liner in 1961. Since then many terrorist groups are engaged in the illegitimate activities on the unpatrolled places of vast oceans. These groups are Palestinian, Srilankan Tamil, Filipino, Al Qaeda etc. These terrorisms are of various types such as attacks on commercial centers like attacks on beach resorts, hotels, shopping malls in the coastal cities, alike of 26/11 in Mumbai. Attacks on ports and strategic facilities, where the port handles large volumes particularly oil and with high population. Targeting of major ports leads to the economy shrinkage. Attack on ships are spineless targets where they get the ransom and their demand are catered immediately.

Piracy and robbery: Piracy possesses a major threat to sea navigation. In the world, the Somalian range of sea is well known for armed piracy. In India, in Sundarbans, the fishermen boats are attacked by pirates where they reported loss of lives and money theft. This piracy also had been encountered in the Mumbai offshore oil platforms.


Smuggling and trafficking: The smuggling leads to the revenue loss for country. In India, gold and electronic gadgets were smuggled from high seas. Later in Tamil Nadu where the arms and ammunition, detonators, gelatin sticks, engines etc.. were also smuggled which impacted the national security. The poaching also took place in the sea; they exploit the marine species such as seahorse, corals, crocodiles, turtles, to name few.

Illegal migration: Illegal migration is another threat poised to a nation. On land, the migration can be checked by implementing various measures but in contrast at the sea, it is quite difficult to detect and stop the infiltration. For example, when the civil war broke out in Sri Lanka millions of refuges migrated to the coasts of Tamil Nadu.

Drifting of fishermen: The fishermen in search of fishes knowingly or unknowingly trespass into other countries boundary. In the Palk Strait, the border crossing was high due to minimum space for fishing. In contrast the fishermen were shot dead when they encroached other country territory.

Therefore, for these various threats involved, we need the finest solution to guard our waters with force.

Construction of force

When India got its independence in 1947 only smuggling and poaching were a threat to the country and they were also in its nascent stage. The terrorism was undiscovered to the world so the coastal security was not a challenging one for the country. Therefore, the Navy was the only force assigned to tackle the threats at the seas.

As the years passed there was an increase in the seaborne smuggling and there was an inadequacy in maritime law enforcement; the Indian navy was the only force deployed to respond to this insecurity. The Indian navy that was established purely for the military purpose was also assigned for these non-major responsibilities. Therefore the government of India framed a committee in 1970 to study the feasibility and viability of setting up separate equipped maritime force. The committee submitted the report in 1971. Acting on their recommendations the Indian government created two specialized forces within a few years: The Customs Marine Organization and the Indian Coast Guard.

The Customs Marine Organization (C.M.O): In view of the recommendations by the committee, the force was put into action in August 1974. The force had a major objective to tackle smuggling operations. The CMO was headed by the elite naval officers deputed for this new organization from the Indian navy. They had staffs from navy, both retired and serving. The Indian navy transferred 20 interceptor crafts, 50 dows and two jet crafts during the initial stage to contain the smuggling activities. However, in subsequent years the attention was not paid to the strengthening the organization. This led to the organization to suffer from a lack of asset and manpower. Once the Indian coast guard was formed the CMO was merged with it in 1982 to avoid duplication of efforts.


The Indian Coast Guard                                                                        

The race started for claiming the vast seas between countries for the benefit of natural resources. By then the United Nations Convention for laws of sea arranged meetings to discuss the rising boundary issues and to resolve them as quickly as possible. From the third meeting, the UNCLOS created a concept of an exclusive economic zone (EEZ). This law was enforced worldwide for the unity in waters. India declared its territorial waters, contiguous zone, and exclusive economic zone with other maritime zones in 1976. This was made as an act and named as Maritime Zone of India. By this act, country got 2.02 million sq. km of EEZ into the maritime zone. The insertion of this maritime area would have needed force for continuous policing and maintaining the country’s interest in the waters. In addition to this, in North-West India near Mumbai the oil and gas explorations were made. The offshore platforms were installed in these areas. Moreover, the tanker trade increased in subsequent years. To prevent the coastal waters from any form of pollution, search and rescue operations, scientific studies by foreign vessels, poaching, enforcing the law and order in the waters, assistance to the customs department, compliance law relating to merchant navy and other specified duties, Coast Guards were required. The committee was set up headed by Mr Rustamji, for setting up the special force. The committee considered the above threats in the Indian waters and gave a detailed report on creating a special force named Indian Coast Guard which would perform wisely on the above threats mentioned in 1977.

The ICG act of 1978 lays down the following duties:

·         Safety and protection of islands and offshore terminals

·         Protection of fisherman

·         Assistance to fishermen in distress sea

·         Preservation and protection of the marine environment

·         Prevention and control of marine pollution

·         Assisting the customs and other authorities in anti-smuggling activities

·         Enforcement of marine laws in force

·         Safety of life and property at sea

·         Collection of scientific data  

Initially, the ICG was equipped with two small corvettes and five patrol boats transferred from Indian Navy. Then director general vice-admiral V.A Kamath from Indian Navy has appointed to direct the ICG operations. He immediately framed a five-year plan to devolve ICG as a potential force. But this was restricted due to the economic reserves allotted.

A decade after in 1987 the operation Pawan was launched to control the smuggling near Palk bay. However, this was an unsuccessful operation due to the Sri Lankan request to withdraw the vessels from the border in 1990. By then the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) were involved in illegal activities such as supplying arms and ammunition, TNT’s, and other criminal activities of killing fishermen. Due to withdrawal of Coast Guard and Indian Navy vessels from that point, the activities increased. The then Tamil Nadu government requested Centre Government to send patrolling teams in order to control the situation. So accordingly, the operation Tasha was launched to eliminate these illegal activities. As the civil war in Sri Lanka got intense, the people started migrating into India illegally. Meanwhile ICG started patrolling in coordination with the state police force and the Indian Navy. Even with the strict patrolling, the fishermen easily dodged the forces and ferried many migrants from Sri Lanka. Although the operation Tasha was not very successful at that time, it continues to be in operation till date.

After the Mumbai blast in 1993, it was revealed that the RDX was brought by sea; operation Swan was streamed in the coastal states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa. The Joint Coastal Patrolling team was formed with the state police force, ICG and IN. However, after two decades of operation not a single seizure was made and the operation was discontinued in 2012. The reason given was less manpower and equipment deployed for this operation. Moreover, they were a lack in coordination among them; this blunder ultimately led to another bomb blast in Hotel Taj on November 2008.

Call for upgradation of Maritime Defence force

Post Kargil war, the war review committee was formed to analyze the weakness of the national security. This committee was headed by the ministers themselves to ensure the security protocols. On the wise advice of the committee, the department of border management (DoBM) was framed under the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2004. This department manages Coastal and land borders. For the security of Offshore platforms, a separate advisory group was formed in 2002 as Flag Officer Defense Advisory Group (FODAG). This is being headed by the commander in chief in costal defense. In 2005 the coastal security scheme was launched where the states actively participate to secure the coastal areas. Under this scheme the Marine Police Force came into force. However, this was already operating in the state of Tamil Nadu from 1994 by the name of Coastal Security Police. This force helped in identifying LTTE personal and seizure of the weapons from them along with arresting people who are responsible for the illegal migration.

Even with so many committees, so many forces, there was lack of coordination among them which lead to 26/11 attack; this was an eye opener for the government. The government initiated the restructuring of the maritime forces and released the Standard Operating Procedures for them. The Cabinet Committee released the security directives in 2009. The multi-layered surveillance procedures of coastal security scheme were introduced. Under this system the Navy will be the authority for overall maritime security, while the Coast Guard will monitor the 200 NM exclusive economic zone where it would be under IN. In case of wartime, it will be the marine police force which will guard the territorial waters up to 12 NM under the ICG. The coast guard stations will act as hubs and the coastal police station will act as spokes for the coordination purposes.

Indian Coast Guard structure

The ICG is headed by the Director-General (DG ICG) who sits at the Coast Guard Headquarters (CGHQ), New Delhi. There he is assisted by four deputy DG and other staff officers. The ICG operates five regions; Western HQ, Eastern HQ, North East HQ, North 

West HQ and Andaman & Nicobar HQ. They have 16 district headquarters, where 9 are in coastal states, 2 in Andaman & Nicobar and 1 in Lakshadweep. They have about 42 stations across the country.

ICG has 150 ships and boats and 62 aircraft which includes latest inclusion of a ship and two interceptor boats. Ship ICGS Sachet is the first in a series of five offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) which has a length of 105 meters is propelled by two 9100 kw diesel engine and has a maximum speed of 26 kts. The two IBs, C-450 and C-451 are 30-meter-long boat which are capable in achieving speeds in excess of 45 knots and designed for high-speed interception, close patrol and low intensity maritime operations. Further, 40 ships are in various stages of construction at different Indian shipyards and 16 Advanced Light Helicopters under production at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The Indian Coast Guard stands as the fourth largest Coast Guard in the world. It has plans to achieve the fleet strength of 200 ships and 100 aircrafts by the year 2023.

ICG is supervised and financed by the Ministry of Defense (MOD) and it works in coordination with the Indian Navy to safeguard the maritime boundaries. However, voices are being raised off lately by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for bringing the ICG under their directive. MHA has proposed to MOD that ICG’s utilization is more in inland waters since Indian Navy is already deployed to control the waterbodies beyond the borders. MHA citing the 2018 reports of the Directors General of Police (DGPs), a Border Security Force (BSF)-led high-level committee of police officers believes that India’s domestic transport channels on land and water are open to vulnerabilities for which it is pertinent that ICG works in coordination with the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), BSF, Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), and the state police rather than Indian Navy. While initially the idea was outrightly rejected, the central govt has started considering it seriously. There are multiple advantages of having ICG under the MHA. 

The  overall responsibility for the coastal security will be handled by the Coast guards

2.      The operational disconnect between the Navy, Coast guard and the local population will be taken care of

3.      There will be a better coordination between these agencies and the state police in case of crisis situation

4.      The ICG personnel are well trained for sea operation and bringing ICG under MHA will lead to better coordination between the MOD and MHA in case of war

5.      ICG is fully familiar with terrain, threats and operational challenges of coastal areas.

Due to the above prevailing factors, at the time of formation, ICG was proposed to be under MHA but was later placed under MOD. Although the MoD has rejected the proposal for present, Indian states seem to be coming around to the idea of the ICG being under the MHA and being a one-stop shop for domestic patrolling.



Comparison and Cooperation between Coast guards


            In 1971 Pakistan established the Pakistan Coastal Guard under the ministry of defence. Pakistan coast guard were not capable of deep sea operations and rescue operations, moreover the importance and manning was less at that time. On contrary, Indian Coast Guard and Navy were actively participating in drills in the Indian Ocean. In 1982 when the UNCLOS was signed the government of Pakistan decided to have a specialized force. The job was given to the navy in 1986. In 1987 the navy gave a solution to create Pakistan Maritime Security force to protect the maritime interest of the country. Although the force was created in late eighties, it gained the parliamentary act in 1994 only. Till 2005, Pakistan Security force use to single handedly train people and make them sea worthy. Later they started exercising with other coastguards in the world. The first exercise was with an Indian coast guard.

The memorandum of understanding was signed between the Indian coast guard and Pakistan Maritime security force on October 2005. The problem that both countries were facing at that time was that fishermen were fishing inside each other waters. They signed a bilateral treaty for fixing communication gap between forces. Under this, violation has to be informed, joint exercise will be conducted on request of either side, rescue operations, pollution control, and maintaining of EEZ were agreed in principle. However, the problems still persist.



  Bangladesh has a small coastal line of 580 km, so until 1994 the navy secured the land from external threats. But with time more roles and responsibilities were encumbered to navy. Therefore the ministry of home affairs created a force called Bangladesh Coast Guard. Soon after creation, the act was passed in parliament and the roles and responsibilities were defined. The manpower for this force was provided by the Bangladesh Navy and Army; it was the army which sent for the medical team. They started their operational activities with two patrol crafts transferred from the Bangladesh Navy. They have two major ports Chittagong and Mongla where 90% of their export and import happen. Moreover, a sizeable gas resource has been found at the Bay of Bengal. To maintain the fishing, exploration, law enforcement, search and rescue operation and trade, the force was helpful. A fleet of 65 various types of ships is in operation. The coast guard has fixed a goal to modernization plan named COAST GUARD GOAL 2030, to modernize its fleet and introduce air patrolling unit to guard their waters. As like India, they train their officers through their naval academy.

The memorandum of understanding was signed between Indian Coast guard and Bangladesh Coast guard in 2015. Under this they can communicate to each other round the clock for quick transition of information and active cooperation. They can visit any port with their vessel. The search and rescue operations will take place when one party requests; this also applies to pollution tackling.

Sri Lanka:

Sri Lanka is surrounded by water with a bunch of flora and fauna which needs to be conserved; therefore, they started coast conservation department in 1984. Later in 1999, the Sri Lanka coast guard was created under Ministry of defence. In the same year, the construction of vessels was started in their shipbuilding docks for which the manpower was transferred from the navy. Soon after the political change happened and the coast guard was bolted. Most of the responsibilities were transferred to coast conservation department; the boats were also handed over to them to conserve the sea in 2002. Another political change happened in 2010 which served as a boon to navy and conservation department because the Coast guard was created the very year. The act states the force is non-military law enforcement agency which can search, arrest ships, crafts and personnel engaged in illegal activities in their maritime zones and territorial waters. The cadets are trained in their naval academy and Japanese coast guard center.

In 2018 the MOU was signed between India and Sri Lanka. This was to strengthen the cooperation between the forces by affirming the instant communication round the clock in case of robbery, illegal trafficking of drugs and ammunition, illegal immigration etc.. The vessels can also visit counterparts port to encourage operation and administrative cooperation. To strengthen the bonding India gave a Vikram class offshore patrol vessel to Sri Lanka. After this MOU the killing of Indian fishermen due to unintentional border crossing was drastically reduced.

India has high advancement in the fleet capacity compared to them; they also have less experience in patrolling the sea. The fleet capacity is too small to cover the vast ocean hence the agreement with India helps them to safeguard the sea.


The Japanese government found maritime safety agency in 1948. In 2000 the organization was renamed as Japanese Coast Guard with additional responsibilities in hand. In 2001 the Coast guard law was reframed with functional and responsibilities which it differed from the mother organization MSA. The first memorandum was signed in 2000 in the name of Global partnership between Japan and India. It was since then that the maritime trade significantly increased. Japan has just lifted the trade embargo with India due to Pokhran nuclear bomb testing. In 2006 it was renamed as Global and Strategic partnership where both the countries conducted joint naval exercise in the Indian Ocean to counter the piracy, illegal trafficking of arms and drugs. In 2015 the relation got vigor and partnership was renamed as Special Strategic and Global Partnership. Through this, the bilateral talks between coast guard were held which led to joint exercise off the coast in Chennai. The peaceful and prosperity vision 2025 was introduced which would create a new era in India Japan relations. By this, both military and coast guards will secure the Indo-Pacific waters.

In comparison, the JCG has more fleet capacity and advanced training than ICG. JCG has 457 various types of watercraft and 83 aircraft as of 2018. Japan also has specialized coast guard training centers to train its officers. The coast guard school offers 2-year specialized training program on scientific and technical knowledge where they can be commissioned as officers. The coast guard academy offers a 4-year program with 6 months additional diploma course which train the cadets in law enforcement, marine engineering, navigation, test mental and physical strength.

Modernization of Indian Coast Guard

 We all are familiar with the fact that India is surrounded by water from three sides. This includes Indian Ocean in the south, Arabian Sea in the west and the Bay of Bengal in the east. It is a boon for the nation since 90% of its trade is handled by sea. The maritime economy plays a pertinent role in empowering the nation with the required resources. However, that is supplemented with the maritime security threats that we face. Having been surrounded by so much of water, it exposes the nation to the terrorist and piracy threat from the west and poaching, smuggling, criminal threats from the south and the east. Along with that India needs to take care of its rich sea resources within its EEZ. Maritime forces need to make sure that the innocent passage laid down in the UNCLOS should remain innocent and should not be used by any nation to challenge the security and the sovereignty of our nation

The disastrous Mumbai terror attack in 2008 is the best example of how an exposed and unprotected water can lead to a disaster. Although there were many reforms with respect to coordination between forces, procurement of latest boats and surveillance system and modernization of the ICG after the attack, we still have a long way to go. Over the decade, the ICG is slowly and consistently strengthening the force. Not only the ships can perform extensive surveillance the air division also plays a major role in safeguarding the sea. As of now, the ICG has 150 ships of various classes and 62 aircraft/helicopters in various models, more 40 ships are under construction in various stages and 16 light helicopters are under production. The induction of technologies such as precision weapon technology, electromagnetic, LASER technologies, advanced propulsion systems and modifications in the engines are thrusting the new vessels. The unmanned aerial vehicles are being procured by ICG to have extensive surveillance over the sea; this UAV can drive the ICG to the next level. The expansion of the coast guard stations will increase the extent of communication as well as patrolling. Around 38 additional coastal surveillance radars and 8 mobile surveillance systems are being installed. Installation of the latest coastal surveillance network, automatic identification system, radars, camera and sensors in 46 locations along the coastline and islands is to achieve gap-free surveillance in the coastal waters. By 2022 the figures of the ICG asset has to be increased to the fleet capacity of 200 vessels and 100 aircraft/helicopters. ICG has got Rs 5,032.76 allotted by the union ministry in budget 2020-2021 for this modernization plan. Along with the above, there is a plan for setting up a separate training academy for the Coast Guard.

Indian Coast Guard Academy

The coast guard training academy is a strategic project ongoing in the defense sector. Is there any need for the specialized academy for ICG? This idea came into existence way back in 2009. It was ascertained that for the coastal security the training of manpower was being limited as they use Indian naval academy as their training academy. If we compare our Coast Guard with the other nations then it is very easy to decipher that our demography is completely different from them. We have a large landmass surrounded by waters which not only needs protection and security from external threats but also a dedicated, independent force with ample manpower which have been trained exclusively to deal with pollution accidents, smuggling, breach of maritime zones etc. While the other nations can rely on their Navy to train Coast Guard cadets, India needs a dedicated academy which will train officers and ratings exclusively for sea border protection. Tripling of Naval budget will not do justice to the Coast Guard upgradation. Along with that the friendly nations look upto India for training of their Coast Guard. The small facility at Cochin where the Coast Guard officers are being trained at present is not apt for that. Coast Guard is dependednt of Indian Navy for training of its along with cadets from other countries. Therefore, it was agreed to establish a dedicated academy for training of Coast guard.

A land was spotted in Kerala which is a coastal region. The Kerala industrial infrastructure development corporation gave unutilized land of 160 acres of land in Azhikkal for the purpose. The land was transferred in 2011 and the foundation stone for building laid by the defence minister, same year. It is located about 20 km south of Indian Naval Academy, Ezhimala. However, the project hit the roadblock in the year 2019. This was in view of denied permission by coastal regulation zone from the ministry of environment, forest and climate change. Soon after the ceasing of the project, the new land was sited at Kenjar near Mangalore. The 160 acres of land was transferred from Karnataka industrial areas development board to ICG to setup the academy. The technology embedded training has to be given to cadets. The training of the cadets is up to the international standards but as of now, the training is limited due to the academy restrictions if the ICGA is constructed the manpower will increase rapidly to protect the waters from threats. It needs to be understood that IN and ICG performs two separate functions. Their job responsibilities are completely different. Their equipment, their boats, their surveillance equipment are separate from each other. If they are two separate entities, they should be trained in a separate fashion in separate academy.

The challenges in the modernization also have to be taken care for. The modernization of the Coast guard forces is required due to many factors. There is a limited allocation of capital; due to this, there is a delay in the delivery of vessels and aircraft. Many projects are halted halfway due to non-allocation of required funds. In 2017, the Public Accounts Committee of Maharashtra legislature pointed out that of the 19 new coastal police stations that were supposed to be set up along the 720-km long coastline, work was yet to begin at seven locations. The Controller and Auditor General report on coastal security highlighted the prevalent flaws. 

It included

1.      Inadequate training of mariner Police

2.      Jetties under the Coastal Security Scheme were yet to be constructed. Use of fisheries’ piers by coastal police at extended distances from Coastal Police Stations (CSS).

3.      Decline in checking of the fishing activities by coastal police

90% shortfall in night patrolling owing to the lack of manpower 

1.      Below par state level monitoring mechanism


WhWhile the Indian Navy vision with respect to Maritime security includes setting up of coastal radar chains, the National Command and Control Communications Intelligence Network (N3CIN), the Maritime Domain Awareness Plan and the Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC), IG officer believe that without concentrating on micro coastal management like illegal fishing, smuggling, patrolling, coastal security cannot be completely achieved. At present we have coast guard protection scheme in which we have three-tier structures for coastal protection. Although we have modern equipment and distinguished personnel in actions there are many cases where the ships are run aground or armed robbery are still a threat. This shortage of manpower for surveillance and reduced night patrols may lead to infiltration. The training of coastal personals with the new technology implemented on boats is not done which in turn affects their patrolling capability. 


The ICG has transformed over the years and developed as a mature and one of the largest security entities. The ICG is expected to become strong maritime force by the year 2030. Although there are delays in the acquisition of assets for the ICG, the country is gradually coming up with terms of consolidation of Coastal security and modernization of the coast guard. ICG has been active in building cooperation among the friendly nations which includes signing of MOU, training of their cadets, providing them with training support and protection of their territories. To take it further, cooperation needs to be built with more countries for the joint exercise, usage of ports, training and annual meeting to counter the seaward threats. With respect to our own boundaries it is pertinent that we understand that India’s geography is separate from other countries. Having been surrounded by waters on three sides, it calls for separate and independent force to take care of it. This includes separate budget, independent decision makers and distinct training program which deals specifically in coastal safety and security. Bringing ICG under the MHA will be one such good move in the future. ICG being a functional and well-established force operating in the coastal region is familiar with operational challenges and threats. Equipped with well-trained personnel for sea operations, bringing ICG under MHA would lead to better coordination between MoD and MHA in case of war. Speaking of the Coast Guard Academy, the country has to have a specialized academy to train and groom future officers. 

The training must be in line with the modern technology, should be able to assess the forthcoming threats and training should be at par with our competitors. Talking of the indigenous products, there are several Indian companies which can develop ships and boats which can be constructed with materials and designs from India. This way we will be working towards the principle of “Atmanirbhar bharat”. There are many companies like reliance shipping services, Simens, TATA power, etc… who are ready to build ships at low cost. ICG is doing a tremendous job in protecting our coasts. Along with that center is planning to create additional infrastructure to coast police infrastructure, provide them with additional training, giving better equipment and maintaining a proper database of fishermen. With proper support, ICG would be able to utilize its manpower in the ambient fashion, guard the shores as well as shallow waters and will be able to coordinate well with other agencies.

(The article is co authored by Capt Kunal Narayan Uniyal,  the CEO of IMBA Global Education Pvt Ltd., having 15 years of expereince in shipping industry and Sathya Narayana VM , who is a research scholar pursuing his PGDM in Maritime Business from IMBA.  )