A tri-nation tabletop anti-narcotics and maritime search and rescue exercise, ‘Exercise Shield’, was held between Indian and Sri Lankan Navies and Maldives National Defence Force through virtual mode.
- The two-day exercise, TTX-2021, was held virtually on July 14 and 15 with the Indian Navy’s Western Naval Command as the lead agency.
- The exercise is aimed at enhancing mutual understanding and exchange of best practices procedures for countering common transnational crime.
- This exercise commenced with the opening address by Rear Admiral Gurcharan Singh, Chief Staff Officer (Operations), Western Naval Command, Mumbai.
- Rear Admiral Prasanna Mahawithana, Director General Operations, Sri Lanka Navy, and Colonel Ibrahim Hilmy, Area Commander- Maldives National Defence Force participated in the inaugural session.
- The exercise was coordinated by Maritime Warfare Centre, Mumbai.
- This exercise is a part of ongoing efforts towards strengthening maritime partnership amongst the three countries and further boosts the security environment in the Indian and Sri Lankan Navies and Maldives National Defence Force.
- It was focused on enhancing maritime security cooperation and mutual understanding, exchange of best practices, procedures for countering common trans-national maritime crimes such as narcotics smuggling, evolving modalities for exchanging information, intelligence and to assist each other in maritime search and rescue.
- Interaction between the three neighbouring countries in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) has also grown significantly in recent years, in consonance with India’s policy of ‘Neighbourhood First’ and vision of ‘Security and Growth for all in the Region (SAGAR).”
- The exercise gains additional relevance in light of the successful Operation Sagar Aaraksha 2 executed in support of MV X-Press Pearl, the Singapore-flagged cargo ship that caught fire on May 21.
- The cargo ship MV X-Press Pearl was carrying 1,486 containers of chemicals and cargo when it went up in flames near the Colombo Port. Apart from the 325 metric tonnes of fuel in its tanks, the ship was loaded with 25 tonnes of hazardous nitric acid.
- The Sri Lankan Navy, Airforce, and the Indian Coast Guard jointly doused the fire in an operation that took days. However, the ship sank off the country’s coast on June 17.
- Environmentalists have dubbed it as one of the worst ecological disasters in Sri Lanka’s history.
- Furthermore, there has been a steep increase in the recovery of narcotics in the IOR in recent years and has been a major concern for maritime security agencies.
- For instance, in April the Navy had recovered over 300 kg of narcotics from a fishing vessel in the Arabian Sea estimated to cost ₹3,000 crores in the international market. Thus, disrupting smuggling routes, which emanate from the Makran coast and flow towards the Indian, Maldivian and Sri Lankan destinations.
The exercise came as a follow up to India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives agreeing to focus on ways of enhancing maritime security cooperation in the IOR at the fourth National Security Adviser (NSA)-level trilateral meeting held in Colombo in November last year with the participation of India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and the top defence brass from Sri Lanka and the Maldives.