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Saikat Das asked: What is the policy of Indian Navy/Coast Guard regarding pursuit of a rogue vessel into the territorial waters of a neighbouring country?

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  • Sarabjeet Singh Parmar replies: In the first instance we need to understand what a rogue vessel or rogue ship is. In the absence of any internationally recognised definition, the given definition can be assumed: “Any ship that has violated a condition that warrants her arrest and detention is called a rogue ship.” The condition could be related to terrorism, piracy, or any recognised act of maritime crime, or violation of any law or regulation stipulated by a coastal state in her maritime zones. However, this definition itself, and the word ‘condition’ is open to debate and interpretation.

    As per Article 111 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), coastal states enjoy the right of hot pursuit. However, the right of hot pursuit ceases as soon as the ship enters the territorial sea of its own flag state or a third state. In this regard, the aforesaid article can be seen for more details.

    Any entry into the territorial seas of the flag state or third party state would be legally acceptable if the action was authorised under a recognised mandate such as the UN or a bilateral understanding with the flag or third party state. For instance, such a UN mandate was exercised, via UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs) renewed annually, by navies engaged in anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia. These ships were authorised to enter into the territorial sea of Somalia for purpose of repressing acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea. This obviously also included when in pursuit of pirates.

    In so far as India is concerned, having ratified UNCLOS, her navy and coast guard will respect UNCLOS and any other international law that deals with this aspect and adhere to the provisions of such conventions and laws. Entry into the territorial sea of another nation in pursuit of a rogue ship will, therefore, be undertaken by Indian Naval and Indian Coast Guard ships only under a recognised international mandate, or as part of an agreement or understanding with another coastal state.  

    Captain Sarabjeet Singh Parmar is Senior Fellow at the National Maritime Foundation (NMF), New Delhi. He was earlier Research Fellow at IDSA.

    Posted on February 18, 2019