Published on: August 14, 2021



  • With a long coastline and large island chains spread-eagled across the Indian Ocean, India has a natural seaward orientation, with key sea lanes of communication coursing through its surrounding seas.
  • Ninety per cent of global trade is conducted on the high seas, for the simple reason that it continues to be the most cost effective mode of transport.


  • In the 15th century, Vasco de Gama was piloted to the west coast of India from Zanzibar by a Gujarati seaman. Long before that, India’s ancient mariners were trading with the old world. The very word navigation is derived from the Sanskrit word “navgath”.
  • PM linked free and open trade to India’s civilisational ethos. His words were a reminder of India’s maritime trade with Mesopotamia 4,500 years ago. Lothal was a key maritime centre of the Indus Valley civilisation
  • A ship built indigenously and manned by a local crew voyaged to England and back in the time of Rao Godji II (1760-1778) of Kutch. Buddhism and Hinduism spread to South-east Asia by the maritime route. Even Islam took the maritime route from India to South-east Asia.


  • Ninety per cent of global trade is conducted on the high seas, for the simple reason that it continues to be the most cost effective mode of transport.
  • Disruption of sea lanes of communication has global repercussions.

Example: The blockage in the Suez Canal earlier this year interrupted the flow of trade worth billions of dollars

  • A naval blockade at any choke-point in the Indo-Pacific could prove catastrophic.
  • Freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce are key to the spread of prosperity. Critical supply chains depend on the concept of mare liberum (open seas). The neo-colonial concept of mare clausum (closed seas) in the South China Sea is anathema to the future of the global economy.


  • Today, natural disasters and maritime threats posed by non-state actors have grown exponentially.
  • India’s role as ‘first responder’ in the Indian Ocean, whether in thwarting piracy or providing relief after the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, is well- documented.
  • The Indian Air Force airlifted 30 tonnes of relief material to Mauritius in August 2020 to contain an oil spill that threatened to engulf the island nation’s pristine coast.
  • The Indian Coast Guard’s operational reach and capability has vastly improved in dealing with environmental hazards and piracy.


  • As President of the UN Security Council for the month of August, India’s leadership in the debate on maritime security, that too at the level of the Prime Minister, has strengthened its credentials as a key stake-holder in the maritime commons.
  • The Presidential Statement issued on the occasion highlights the commitment of the UN Security Council to international law. More relevantly, it emphasises the importance of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as the legal framework governing all maritime activity.
  • India’s natural interests stretch across both the Indian and Pacific Oceans as reflected in its inclusive Indo-Pacific vision.