Indian Ocean Region

The Indian Ocean matters today, more than ever. The Indian Ocean basin is of particular importance for India, India is geographically located at the Ocean’s centre, and has over 7,500 kilometers of coastline and it is the region’s most populous country and geopolitical keystone.


International trade

  • It enjoys a privileged location at the crossroads of global trade, connecting the major engines of the international economy in the Northern Atlantic and Asia-Pacific.
  • This represents an almost four-fold increase in the volume of commercial shipping since 1970.
  • Prime Minister declared that, “The Indian Ocean Region is at the top of our policy priorities.” Today, 95 per cent of India’s trade by volume and 68 per cent of trade by value come via the Indian Ocean.

Nearly 80 per cent of India’s crude oil requirement—is imported by sea via the Indian Ocean.


  • The Ocean has long been a key determining factor of India’s cultural footprint, with people, religion, goods, and customs spreading from India to Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia and vice-versa.
  • Project Mausam is a cultural and economic project by the Indian Ministry of Culture and Archaeological Survey of India with the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts which aims to connect countries on the Indian Ocean.

Densely Populated

  • The Ocean’s vast drainage basin is home to some two billion people. This creates opportunities, especially given the high rates of economic growth around the Indian Ocean rim.


Source of fishing and mineral resources

  • The Indian Ocean is rich in natural resources. Forty per cent of the world’s offshore oil production takes place in the Indian Ocean basin.
  • Fishing in the Indian Ocean now accounts for almost 15 per cent of the world’s total and has increased some 13-fold between 1950 and 2010 to 11.5 million tonnes.
  • Fisheries and aquaculture industries are also a major source of exports.


Mineral resources

  • nodules containing nickel, cobalt, and iron, and massive sulphide deposits of manganese, copper, iron, zinc, silver, and gold present in sizeable quantities on the sea bed.
  • Indian Ocean coastal sediments is important sources of titanium, zirconium, tin, zinc, and copper.
  • Rare earth elements are present, even if their extraction is not always commercially feasible.
  • Indian Ocean economies accounted for 35.5% of global iron production and 17.8% of world gold production in 2017

Energy resources:

  • The main energy resources present in Indian Ocean are petroleum and gas hydrates. Petroleum products mainly include the oil produced from offshore regions. Gas hydrates are unusually compact chemical structures made of water and natural gas.
  • The Indian Ocean holds 16.8% of the world’s proven oil reserves and 27.9% of proven natural gas reserves.

Fishery Resource

  • The region was also responsible for 28% of global fish capture in 2016, and there has been a continuous increase in fish capture in the region since the 1950s.
  • This has created a successful basis for export industries in a number of countries. For example, Indonesia and India accounted for around 4.5% of global frozen fish exports in 2017.


Ensuring the sustainable exploitation of fishing and mineral resources.

  • The IORCs are faced with the common pressing challenges of increasing urbanisation, industrialization and migration, resulting in over-exploitation of natural marine resources.
  • Multi-dimensional challenges from climate change impacts such as sea-level rise, ocean acidification, and extreme weather events.
  • Climate change impact like erosion and inundation could cause loss of coastal habitats such as mangroves, thereby affecting the reproduction of species.
  • Acidification and rise in sea temperature destroys the coral reefs that are critical to various sea species.

Managing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations.

  • As the population of the region is projected to increase significantly in the coming decades, its impact on food security and economy from marine resources would become more substantial.
  • The densely populated littoral is also vulnerable to natural or environmental disasters. ex., the 2004 tsunami that killed 228,000 people.

Securing the free passage of trade and energy.

  • There is a strong security dimension to India’s engagement with the Indian Ocean, beyond traditional naval considerations. ex., One of the worst terrorist attacks – the 2008 assault on Mumbai in which 164 people were killed—was perpetrated by terrorists arriving by sea.
  • Smuggling, illegal fishing, and human trafficking are all also major concerns.
  • The lack of regional maritime security architecture has prompted major powers to compete for control over these resources and sea-lanes.
  • The further escalation of such geopolitical tensions, as seen in the South China Sea, would threaten the openness of the region’s sea routes, which in turn may disrupt trade and adversely affect energy dependent nations like Sri Lanka.

Adequacy of institutions for addressing the region’s many challenges.

  • Lack of governance mechanism, poor data and resources suggests that there are very few institutions, finance and technical resources available to deal with the challenges. There is no single overarching organisation that covers all IORC in its membership.
  • Most of the Indian Ocean countries have formulated their own fisheries regulations; they lack proper standards, guidelines, coherent regional arrangement and enforcement mechanisms in the Indian Ocean owing to limited data and capacity constraints.
  • Deep sea exploration to extract minerals requires further investments in remotely operated vehicles and processing facilities.


  • India received exclusive rights to explore the Central Indian Ocean and has since explored four million square miles and established two mining sites.
  • Geological Survey of India acquired a deep sea exploration ship Samudra Ratnakar from South Korea, boosting its survey capabilities.
  • In 2014, the International Seabed Authority issued licenses for the Indian Ocean ridge, opening up new opportunities for deep seabed mining.
  • This region is estimated to have massive reserves of manganese, as well as cobalt, nickel, and copper, all of which are scarce on Indian soil.


  • India has also been playing a more active role in humanitarian and disaster relief operations. These have often focused on rescuing citizens of India from conflict zones, although India has helped citizens of many other countries in the process. A recent example in the Indian Ocean region is Operation Raahat in Yemen.
  • Beginning in 2005, pirates operating mostly from Somalia began to hijack commercial ships with alarming regularity, with such incidents peaking in 2010. Piracy has declined noticeably in the Indian Ocean since 2013, due in part to the efforts of countries like India, it could once again prove a threat to Indian commerce.
  • India’s objectives, as outlined by Indian Prime Minister Modi in 2015 under the banner of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region). “Our goal, is to seek a climate of trust and transparency; respect for international maritime rules and norms by all countries; sensitivity to each other`s interests; peaceful resolution of maritime issues; and increase in maritime cooperation.”


  • In Mauritius Declaration on Blue Economy of September 2015, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) recognized the need for urgent action towards improved governance structures to preserve the ocean’s resources for future generations.
  • It is imperative, to increase cooperation towards conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources as outlined in the goal 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
  • Marine Renewable Energy, Offshore wind energy production, wave energy production, tidal energy production
  • Marine Tourism , sailing at sea, boating at sea, surfing, sail boarding, bird watching in coastal areas and islands
The Law of the Seas
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is an international treaty which was adopted and signed in 1982. The Convention has become the legal framework for global marine and maritime activities, and is known as the ‘Constitution of the Seas.’

Since its adoption, 167 states have joined the treaty, out of which 25 are Indian Ocean states. Only three—Cambodia, Iran and the UAE—are not party to the treaty.

The Convention aims to delineate all ocean space into different maritime zones and sets forth the rights and duties of States in their activities within each of those maritime zones.

It divides the ocean into six different zones namely;

  • Internal waters
  • Contiguous Zone
  • Territorial Sea
  • Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)
  • High Seas.

The main institutions established by the Convention include

  • The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea
  • The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf; and
  • The International Seabed Authority.

As this Convention forms the core of ocean governance, Indian littoral states and maritime users can use this as a foundation for ensuring freedom of navigation and stability in the Indian Ocean.

The Indian Ocean region covering a vast maritime zone of nearly 68.56 million sq. km. faces many traditional and non-traditional safety and security challenges and is vulnerable to criminals and anti-national activities. including piracy, armed robberies at sea, terrorism, human trafficking, drugs trafficking, illicit trafficking in wildlife, trafficking of weapons, crimes in the fisheries sector such as IUU fishing, degradation of ocean health, unlawful exploitation of marine resources, and climate change with its related repercussions on environmental security.

Maritime Security includes elements of

  • International peace and security,
  • Sovereignty/territorial integrity/political independence,
  • Security from crimes at sea,
  • Security of resources and environmental security



  • China’s regressive behavior in the critical sea lanes in the South China Sea and there inroad to Indian Ocean are the centre of the entire maritime security challenge. Thus there is Concerns over maritime security and of rule-based order in Indo-Pacific.
  • China is increasing its influence not just with military force but through the belt and road initiative too.
  • The sea lanes of communication are critical for peace, stability, prosperity and development of the Indo-Pacific region.


  • The undertaking of terrorist acts and activities within the maritime environment, using or against vessels or fixed platforms at sea or in port, or against any one of their passengers or personnel, against coastal.
  • Mumbai Attack on November 26, 2008, is the most glaring examples of how vulnerable the country’s coasts are.


  • The movement by sea of large volume of commercial freight and its mandatory movement through maritime choke points, such as the Panama Canal, Suez Canal, Strait of Hormuz, Strait of  Bab-el-Mandab, the Malacca Strait and the Bosporus Strait invite piracy. Near Somalia and the Gulf of Aden Piracy has been predominant in the seas of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden between 2005 and 2012.

Smuggling and human trafficking:

  • Organized crime, trafficking and smuggling are increasingly linked to global patterns of violence. Drugs and arms smuggling jeopardizing much of the Indian Ocean.

Infiltration, Illegal Migration:

  • India’s land boundaries have always been porous to infiltration by large scale illegal migration. These large scale influxes over the decades have resulted in widespread political turmoil in the Border States.
  • Creek areas of Gujarat have been highly vulnerable.
  • The Tamil Nadu coast has been experiencing a steady inflow of Sri Lankan refugees since civil war broke out in that country.

Environmental security

  • The degradation of the environment, climate change and the overexploitation of ocean resources are threatening the interests and futures of all the region’s countries and peoples.
  • This will increase the likelihood of flooding, resulting in loss of life and damage to property, as illustrated by recent tsunamis and cyclones.

Unsustainable Ocean resources usage- Competition for resources in and under the oceans, specifically energy and protein, is intensifying.


Strengthening security institutions

Multilayered Surveillance System: A multilayered system of  surveillance of  the country’s maritime domain involving the Indian Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Police, Customs, and the Fishermen

  • Indian Navy continuously carries out patrols, goodwill visits and joint training to display a show of force.
  • Government of India created 2 specialised forces: the Customs Marine Organisation and the Indian Coast Guard.
  • Customs Marine Organisation: to curb smuggling through the sea.
  • Indian Coast Guard:
  • Patrolling the territorial and contiguous waters;
  • Enforcing criminal laws in these waters;
  • Ensuring compliance of laws relating to shipping, fishing and pollution;
  • Assisting the Customs Department in anti-smuggling operations; and
  • Conducting search and rescue and other specified duties.
  • Marine Police Force: for patrolling and the surveillance of the coastal areas, particularly the shallow areas close to the coast.
  • Electronic Surveillance: Government of India has launched the coastal surveillance network project. The network comprises the coastal radar chain, the Automatic Identification System (AIS).
  • Monitoring, Control and Surveillance of Fishermen: All big fishing trawlers (20 meters and above) are being installed with transponders. for small fishing vessels to fit them with the Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID).

Cooperating with regional countries

  • Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS)- The IONS is a voluntary initiative that seeks to increase maritime cooperation among navies of the littoral states of the Indian Ocean region. It has 23 countries as members including India.
  • Indian Ocean Rim Association- It has 20 countries as members including India. IORA serves as the ‘first line of defence’ to build upon existing national, regional and international measures, thereby enhancing coordination and supporting harmonized international Maritime Safety and Security (MSS) collaboration.

Checking aggressive china

  • India’s Call for Free and Open Indo-Pacific: India has called for a free, open and inclusive order in the Indo-Pacific, based upon respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations, peaceful resolution of disputes through dialogue and adherence to international rules and laws.
  • India supports freedom of navigation, over flight, and unimpeded commerce in the international waterways.
  • India also supports utilization of ASEAN-led mechanisms as important platforms for implementation of our shared vision for the Indo-Pacific.
  • India is coordinating with the other powers such as the QUAD nations to contain china in the Indo Pacific region.

Exercises like Malabar with USA, JAPAN, and recent participant AUSTRALIA is significant in this regard.

  • It is an inter-governmental organisation aimed at strengthening regional cooperation and sustainable development within the Indian Ocean region through its 22Member States bordering the Indian Ocean and 9Dialogue Partners.
  • It was formed in 1997 and its secretariat is in Mauritius.
  • The IORA is a regional forum, tripartite in nature, bringing together representatives of Government, Business and Academia, for promoting co-operation and closer interaction among them.
  • It is based on the principles of Open Regionalism for strengthening Economic Cooperation particularly on Trade Facilitation and Investment, Promotion as well as Social Development of the region.
  • The members include Australia, Bangladesh, Comoros, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, Seychelles, Singapore, Somalia, South-Africa, SriLanka, Tanzania, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Maldives and Yemen.

Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) has identified six priority areas, namely: 

  • Maritime security
  • Trade and investment facilitation
  • Fisheries management
  • Disaster risk reduction
  • Academic and scientific cooperation and
  • Tourism promotion and cultural exchanges.

Indian Ocean Rim Association and Its Significance:

  • Till now the emphasis was more on economic integration and cultural collaboration.
  • The third largest ocean woven together by trade routes, 80% of India’s energy imports happen through Indian Ocean, 40% of the world’s global trade traverse through Indian Ocean.
  • Home to nearly 2.7 billion people, Member States whose shores are washed by the ocean are rich in cultural diversity and richness in languages, religions, traditions, arts and cuisines.
  • International cooperation for anti piracy has been one of the fine success stories. Earlier in Somalia and Gulf of Aden etc there was the issue of piracy which have now been contained.
  • There has been an accord signed on the cooperation against terrorism. Sharing of information between members.

Security Issues in the region

  • As of now Indian Ocean Region is very peaceful and there is no rivalry. The trade, transit and sea lanes are clear. Whereas in South China Sea because of China’s aggressiveness it has become the area of conflict and the Pacific Ocean which has always been the area of conflict.
  • The IORA members must focus more on security issues in Indian Ocean Region and make sure that there is no entry of foreign Navy in a manner which can disturb the peace and tranquillity of the region.
  • China’s presence in Indian Ocean
    • China is developing a Blue Water Navy, they have an Aircraft carrier, and they have their presence in Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean. The members of IORA want the peaceful rise of China. China should not become assertive and aggressive and hinder the security aspects of the region.
    • China’s Maritime Silk route project is the project through which china wants to dominate the sea route and trade route.
    • China does not adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The 2018 joint strategic vision for India-France cooperation in the Indian Ocean region specifically mentions that France would support India’s entry in the IOC as an observer. In return, India had supported a “greater role” for France in the bigger Indian Ocean Rim Association.

As per that, India has become a member of the Indian Ocean Commission,

Indian Ocean Commission

  • The inter-governmental organization that coordinates maritime governance in the south-western Indian Ocean created by the Port-Louis Declaration in1982.
  • The IOC was institutionalized in Seychelles in 1984 by the General Agreement for Cooperation, better known as the Victoria Agreement.
  • The Indian Ocean Commission comprises
    • Seychelles,
    • Madagascar,
    • Comoros,
    • Mauritius, and
    • Reunion Island- France’s overseas territory in the region.
  • The group has largely been dominated by France, as all the island states are predominately Francophone with a common colonial history.
  • Till then, IOC had four observers – China, Malta, European Union and International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF).


  • Political and diplomatic cooperation,
  • Economic and commercial cooperation
  • Sustainable development in a globalisation context, cooperation in the field of agriculture, maritime fishing, and the conservation of resources and ecosystems
  • Strengthening of the regional cultural identity, cooperation in cultural, scientific, technical, educational and judicial fields.

Significance for India

  • Western Indian Ocean (WIO) is a strategic part of the Indian Ocean linking the South eastern coast of Africa to the wider Indian Ocean and beyond. It is home to one of the key chokepoints in the Indian Ocean- the Mozambique Channel.
  • These island nations are increasingly important for India’s strategic outreach as part of its Indo-Pacific policy & greater security cooperation with countries in East Africa.
  • India will get an official foothold in a premier regional institution in the western Indian Ocean, boosting engagement with islands in this part of the Indian Ocean. It institutionalises a larger engagement in the south-western Indian Ocean
  • This move would enhance ties with France which is the strong global power in the western Indian Ocean.
  • It lends depth to India’s SAGAR (security and growth for all in the region) policy unveiled by PM Modi in 2015.
  • It is also recognition of India’s growing capability and intent as a first responder for crisis in this region. E.g. During floods in Madagascar in January, 2020 India sent the INS Airavat with relief supplies to the country.
  • With China’s growing presence in the region, this will embolden India’s position to increase its naval presence and gain support for its maritime projects across the Indo-Pacific.