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    Paper no. 1154         29. 10. 2004


by B.Raman

(Text of a paper presented at an International Conference on National Security in a Changing Region organised at Singapore on October 28 and 29, 2004, by the Asia-Pacific Conferences & Events Management (APCEM) with the endorsement and support of "Defence News" )


Apprehensions of major acts of maritime terrorism by the jihadi terrorist organisations, which are members of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF), continue to be high, but there are no clear indicators so far of their having already acquired the necessary capability for such acts. However, their nexus with trans-national mafia groups like the one headed by Pakistan-based Dawood Ibrahim has placed at their disposal maritime facilities which could be used and are being used for the clandestine movement of trained men and material required for land-based terrorist operations in other countries.

Evidence of such nexus could be seen from Pakistan as well as Bangladesh. If there is any major act of maritime terrorism of a tactical nature against their perceived adversaries or of a strategic nature to disrupt the regional trade and economy staged  by them in the South and the South-East Asian region , there is a  strong possibility of its having originated from either Pakistan or Bangladesh.

Since the IIF came into being in February 1998, there have been only two acts of maritime terrorism against vessels anchored off Yemen in which the involvement of Al Qaeda was suspected. One of them against USS Cole in October, 2000, was a tactical strike to give vent to their anger against the US. The other against a French oil tanker in October, 2002, seemed to have been of a strategic nature meant to disrupt at least temporarily the oil trade of Yemen.

While one should avoid over-stating or over-dramatisation of possible threats of maritime terrorism from Al Qaeda and other jihadi components of the IIF, one should be alert to such a possibility through measures such as revamping the intelligence and physical security capabilities and strengthened regional and international co-operation.

Of all the terrorist organisations of the world, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of Sri Lanka continues to have the most well-developed capability for maritime terrorism. It is determined to maintain it in future and is not prepared to accept any proposal for dismantling it as part of any peace accord with the Government. The surprising tolerance of this determination  by the West and particularly by Norway would be counter-productive. Whatever be the attitude of others, India cannot and should not accept this. The West's tolerant attitude towards the LTTE's maritime terrorist capability is yet another indicator of its double standards in the fight against terrorism.

The main use of their maritime capabilities by the terrorist elements of this region has till now been for logistic purposes for transporting arms and ammunition and explosives, men and narcotics for facilitating land-based terrorist operations.

Acts of piracy not amounting to terrorism continue to take place and even increase. There is so far no evidence of any dramatic decline in such incidents following the coming into force of new physical security measures since July 1,2004, thereby underlining the limited utility so far  of these measures. Acts of piracy amounting to terrorism, though still small in number, have been occurring with worrisome  frequency, particularly originating from Indonesia. Free Aceh insurgents/terrorists are believed to be mainly responsible for this.


There are no maritime terrorist organisations. However, there are even now  and there could be in future terrorist organisations in the classical sense, which have  a capability for committing acts of terrorism, not only on land, in inland waters and in the air, but also on the high seas.

2. As compared to acts of terrorism in the skies, which have increased since 1967, acts of terrorism, either in inland waters or on the sea, have been few and far between outside Sri Lanka due to two reasons. Firstly, except in the case of suicide terrorism where getting away is not a factor, getting away after an act of terrorism on the sea is quite difficult. Secondly, terrorists want theatre for their actions in order to get maximum publicity and to have an intimidatory impact on the minds of their perceived State adversaries and the general public. Land and air provide greater theatre for terrorist actions  than the sea. The return in terms of publicity gained   would be much less in the case of an act of maritime terrorism than it would be in the case of an act of terrorism on the land or in the skies.

3. Despite this, sea has had an attraction for terrorist organisations. Firstly, for gun-running. Secondly, for the clandestine movement of their cadres from safe sanctuaries in one country  to safe sanctuaries in another. Thirdly, for the smuggling of narcotics, which is an important source of revenue for them. Fourthly, , for acts of economic terrorism meant to disrupt the economy, either of a nation or a region or the world. The sea provides greater scope for acts of economic terrorism  than  the air since more POL and more commercial merchandise  move by sea than by air. As the terrorists focus more and more on economic targets, it would be prudent to expect more acts of maritime terrorism in future. And fifthly, for the clandestine movement of WMD (Weapons of mass destruction ) material to an intended theatre of operations.

4.There is no objective, universally-accepted definition of maritime terrorism just as there is no objective, universally-accepted definition of terrorism itself. Instead of engaging in an unending debate on what is maritime terrorism, one should work towards a convergence of views  on what constitutes acts of maritime terrorism. Any non-State organisation, which indulges in such acts, is one with a capability for maritime terrorism and hence needs the attention of the national security and counter-terrorism managers of the countries of the world.

5. The purpose of any exercise to identify possible acts of maritime terrorism is ,firstly, to create  among the political leadership, the policy-makers, the national security and counter-terrorism managers and in public opinion an awareness of the threats to human lives, national and global economies,  regional and international trade, the environment, maritime traffic and public health that could arise from acts of maritime terrorism and the need to create the required national and international capabilities for  intelligence collection, physical security and crisis management  in order to be able to  anticipate, prevent and neutralise such threats and to deal with the resulting crisis if the threats do materialise in spite of the best efforts of the intelligence collection and physical security agencies to prevent them..

6. A second purpose of such an exercise is to identify indigenous and international terrorist organisations with a capability for acts of maritime terrorism so that the focus of the experts in the intelligence collection and physical security agencies, who specialise in this subject, could be concentrated on them. In the 1990s, when fears of possible acts of WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) terrorism began to be voiced, many counter-terrorism experts pointed out that there were hundreds of terrorist organisations active in different parts of the world and, hence, it would be humanly, materially and technically impossible for the intelligence agencies to focus equally  on all of them in their attempts to prevent WMD terrorism.

7. Hence, the need to identify organisations from which such threats could arise was stressed so that intelligence and physical security experts entrusted with the task of preventing WMD terrorism could concentrate their resources and efforts on them. As part of this exercise, the terrorist organisations of the world were placed in the following four categories: 

  • Those, which advocate the use of WMD, and already have the required capability. No terrorist organisation figures in this category so far.
  • Those, which advocate or are likely to use WMD, but do not as yet have the capability and are trying to acquire it. Al Qaeda  and other jihadi organisations allied to it come in this category.
  • Those, which already have a sort of WMD capability, but do not advocate its use. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) would fall in this category because of its unestimated stockpile of potassium cyanide. Though the cyanide was acquired for suicide purposes, it could be used, by mixing it with a strong acid for creating fumes or vapour, for causing mass panic, if not mass casualty.
  • Those, which neither  advocate the use of WMD nor are trying to acquire a capability. The majority of the terrorist organisations of the world fall in this category

Such a categorisation makes the job of the intelligence agencies easier.

8. A similar exercise  to categorise terrorist organisations in respect of maritime terrorism would equally facilitate the work of the intelligence and physical security agencies. Such an exercise would lead to the following categories: 

  • Terrorist organisations, which already have a capability for sustained acts of maritime terrorism not only  in the proximity of the coast and in ports, but also on the high seas and have used that capability effectively. The LTTE would fall in this category.
  • Terrorist organisations, which have shown a capability for sporadic acts of maritime terrorism of certain types such as ship hijacking, attacks on ships of perceived adversaries while they are anchored etc. Al Qaeda and some Palestinian terrorist organisations fall in this category.
  • Terrorist organisations, which have evinced an interest in acquiring a capability for acts of maritime terrorism, but do not as yet have the capability. The various jihadi terrorist organisations allied with Al Qaeda in the International Islamic Front (IIF) would come under this category.
  • Terrorist organisations, which neither have any capability for acts of maritime terrorism nor have shown any interest in acquiring it. The vast majority of the terrorist organisations of the world would fall in this category.

9. Two other observations would be relevant for this study: 

  • Only pan-Islamic jihadi terrorist organisations and organisations motivated by religious or spiritual fanaticism such as the Aum Shinrikiyo of Japan  have shown an interest in the acquisition of a capability for WMD terrorism and in using that capability, if they can, to achieve their objective. No ethnic or ideological terrorist organisation has done so.
  • Only religious, including pan-Islamic jihadi, and ethnic terrorist organisations have evinced an interest in acquiring a capability for acts of maritime terrorism. No ideological terrorist organisation has done so.

10. In the Indian perspective, the following constitute acts of maritime terrorism: 

  • First, use of the sea or a river  to knowingly facilitate acts of terrorism on land. Examples are use of sea-going and river-worthy ships and fishing craft for the transport of men and for the clandestine smuggling of arms, ammunition and explosives and possibly WMD material  in future  for committing an act of terrorism on the ground. The LTTE and some of the Palestinian terrorist organisations already have the capability for such acts and have used this capability on many occasions. At least one trans-national mafia group, namely the one  led by Dawood Ibrahim, which is based in Pakistan and which helps jihadi terrorist organisations, has this capability. In October,2003, the US declared Dawood Ibrahim, its leader, as an international terrorist, even though this group does not have any political or other objective. This declaration was made because of its involvement in the Mumbai (Bombay) explosions of March,1993, for which it had the arms, ammunition and explosives clandestinely transported by sea from Karachi to secret landing points on the coast of the Indian State of Maharashtra via Dubai. Another reason for the declaration was its suspected association with Al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and fears of their using its maritime gun and humans running capability. The LET was declared by the US as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation  in October, 2001.
  • Second, use of small boats and fishing vessels for acts of terrorism mounted against coast-based or port-based targets such as port installations, foreign ships visiting ports, off-shore oil installations, oil refineries, nuclear and missile installations etc. Many of India's oil refineries and nuclear and space/missile establishments are based on the coast and are hence vulnerable to such attacks from the sea.
  • Third, use of trainer, microlite and other aircraft for acts of suicide terrorism directed against water-based targets such as off-shore oil installations, ships carrying human beings, commercial merchandise and POL products, naval ships of perceived adversaries of the terrorists either on the high sea or while anchored etc. In 1992, a Pakistan-trained Sikh terrorist belonging to the Babbar Khalsa arrested by the Indian Police stated during his interrogation that during his training in Pakistan, its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) suggested to him that he should join the Mumbai flying club and during a solo flight crash his trainer aircraft on the Mumbai off-shore oil platform.
  • Four, ship hijacking and
  • Five, causing timed or remotely detonated explosions on board ships while they are moving through sensitive channels in order to cause disruption of maritime traffic.

11. There have been innumerable instances of the first category of acts of maritime terrorism mentioned above. There have been some instances of the second and fourth categories and none of the third and fifth.


12. From India's point of view, the most worrisome terrorist organisation with a well-developed and well-tested capability for acts of maritime terrorism is the LTTE. Its capability consists of its fleet of at least two or three merchant vessels, which are used for gun running, and its so-called Navy. Its merchant vessels plying under flags of convenience normally transport legitimate merchandise and, when required, are also used for clandestinely transporting military equipment procured by the LTTE in countries such as Pakistan, Thailand and Ukraine.

13. The Indian and Sri Lankan intelligence agencies and navies try to keep a close watch on the movements of these ships and some successful interceptions of these ships were made possible by the co-operation between the countries. One of the most significant interceptions was that of a  ship carrying arms and ammunition from Pakistan   in 1993. On being cornered, the crew of the ship set fire to it in order to prevent its falling into the hands of the Indian Navy. It sank, carrying down with it Kittu, an important LTTE leader who was travelling in the ship to the LTTE headquarters in Vanni in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. There were other successful interceptions in Sri Lankan territorial waters or in areas close to the Sri Lankan coast. These interceptions were made possible by precise technical intelligence (TECHINT).

14. More than two years ago, the LTTE entered into a cease-fire agreement with the Government of Sri Lanka and the cease-fire is holding though the peace talks between the two are in a state of suspension since April, 2003. Two developments forced the LTTE to enter into a cease-fire. Firstly, its realisation that the international opinion against terrorism in the wake of 9/11 made it inadvisable for it to continue to indulge in acts of terrorism. Secondly, the effective action taken by the Indian and Sri Lankan navies made it difficult, if not impossible, for it to smuggle arms and ammunition, particularly heavy weapons such as anti-aircraft guns, from abroad. It has reportedly exhausted its stockpile of anti-aircraft ammunition and has not been able to procure and ship replacements from abroad. It has thus become vulnerable to air strikes by the Sri Lankan Air Force.

15. Two other aspects about the LTTE's gun-running capability by sea have to be noted. Firstly, its willingness to place its capability at the disposal of terrorist organisations of other countries. There is at least one  reported instance of the LTTE helping in 1995 either the Abu Sayyaf which has since become a founding-member of bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF)  or the Moro Islamic Liberastion Front of the Phillipines by carrying a consignment of arms and ammunition donated by the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM---then known as Harkat-ul-Ansar), from Pakistan to the southern Philippines.

16. Secondly, its use of shipping vessels not belonging to it for gun running. In 1993, after a foreign ship anchored at the Cochin port in South India, its captain had informed the port authorities that it was carrying a consignment of AK-47 rifles from a Russian company for the Ministry of Defence (MOD) of the Government of India. When informed about it, the MOD denied having ordered any such consignment. Enquiries revealed that the consignment had been ordered by a person, who had visited the company's headquarters in Moscow posing as a senior official of the MOD with forged identity papers. He had the payment for the consignment made by a bank remittance from New York.   After the enquiries started,  nobody claimed the consignment, which was reportedly confiscated. The Indian authorities strongly suspected  that it was the LTTE, which had ordered the consignment and its plans to somehow have it clandestinely transferred mid-sea from the ship to one of its own smaller vessels had misfired.

17. In addition to its fleet of merchant vessels, the LTTE has a naval wing capable of conventional as well as unconventional military action on the sea. It has also a cadre of  suicide operators in its Sea Tigers. It has been responsible for some successful terrorist strikes against the Sri Lankan Navy and military installations. One of the favourite modus operandi of the LTTE is to pack a small boat with explosives and have it rammed with the help of a suicide naval bomber against a targetted vessel. It needs to be added that the LTTE has so far used its water-based terrorism capability only against Sri Lanka. It has not used it against any other country, including India, though there have been instances of the boats of the so-called LTTE Navy harassing Indian fishermen in order to disrupt their fishing activities.


18. Thus, here is an instance of a ruthless terrorist organisation having a well-demonstrated capability for terrorist strikes on the sea. If the international community is really sincere in its professions of united action against maritime terrorism, one would have expected it to act unitedly against the LTTE under UN Security Council  Resolution No.1373  in order to identify and immobilise its merchant vessels used for gun-running purposes and intercept its gun-running missions and to have its so-called navy dismantled.

19. Surprisingly, this has not been   the case. Apart from the actions taken by the intelligence and security agencies of Sri Lanka and India to disrupt to the extent they can the maritime capabilities of a ruthless terrorist organisation like the LTTE, one hardly sees any evidence of a similar determined action against the LTTE's gun-running and other maritime terrorism capabilities by the agencies of the other countries of the world.

20. The end-victim syndrome is coming in the way of united action by the international community against the LTTE's maritime terrorism capability. Despite the horrendous experience of the terrorist strikes of 9/11 and the various acts of terrorism subsequently in other countries, our responses against terrorism are still influenced by the answer to the question, who is the end-victim. If the end-victim is your own national, you act promptly and with determination against the terrorist organisation concerned. If the end-victim is the national of some other country, we do not act with the same determination. By adopting such ambivalence and such an attitude, we play into the hands of the terrorists.

21. The lack of united action by the international community against the LTTE's maritime terrorism capability is due to the fact that the end-victims today are mainly Sri Lankans and tomorrow, possibly, God forbid, Indians. The LTTE takes care not to pose a threat to the nationals of other countries.

22. The LTTE is determined to retain its military and maritime capabilities as part of any peace settlement with the Government of Sri Lanka. It is not prepared to agree to any disbanding of its maritime capability and  to the merger of its personnel trained for maritime operations with the Sri Lankan Navy. We were surprised and worried when the Norwegian facilitators of the peace talks in Sri Lanka expressed their support for an LTTE demand for the legitimisation of its maritime terrorism capability by granting it  what it described as a de facto status  as a regular Navy, that is, the same status as the Navy of the state of Sri Lanka. This was particularly shocking since Norway has been an enthusiastic member of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI).


23. In its fight against maritime terrorism, India's second major concern has been the continuing failure and reluctance of the authorities of Bangladesh  to act against  some, as yet unidentified maritime elements, which had played a role and which continue to play a role in helping Al Qaeda and other elements belonging to Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF) to escape the consequences of the international action against Al Qaeda and the IIF by allowing some of the survivors to escape from Pakistan by sea to Bangladesh and take shelter in the camps of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) there.

24. There was also a major incident reported by sections of the Bangladesh media in April,2004, in which a large consignment of arms and ammunition, which was allegedly smuggled into Bangladesh by sea, with the complicity of a prominent local personality, was reportedly intercepted at Chittagong on April 2,2004, by the local authorities.  According to open information, the consignment consisted of 150  rocket launchers, 840  rockets, over a million rounds of  ammunition of different types, 2,000 grenade launchers, 25,000  grenades and over 1700 assorted assault rifles. According to knowledgeable experts, the arms and ammunition would have been sufficient to equipt two infantry battalions.

25.Till today, the international community does not know from where these arms and  ammunition came, who were the maritime elements which had them smuggled and for whom were they meant. For the HUJI? For other jihadi elements in Bangladesh? For the terrorists and insurgents operating in India's North-East? For the Maoists of Nepal? There have till now been no answers to these questions because of the stonewalling attitude of the Bangladesh authorities.


26. India's third major concern  has been due to the failure of the international community to act decisively against the trans-national mafia group led by Dawood Ibrahim, sheltered in Pakistan, which has had a proven nexus with trans-national terrorist and nuclear proliferation groups. It had played a role in facilitating the nuclear proliferation activities of A.Q.Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist, and had masterminded the terrorist strikes in Mumbai (Bombay) in March,1993. Because of the huge funds at its disposal, it has been able to and is still in a position to mobilise maritime capabilities, either of its own or of others, to facilitate acts of maritime terrorism.

27.On October 16, 2003,  the US Department of Treasury announced that it was designating Dawood Ibrahim  as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13224 and that it would  be requesting  the UN to so  list him as well. The  designation would freeze any assets belonging to Dawood within the U.S. and prohibit transactions with U.S. nationals.  The UN listing will require that all UN Member-States take similar action.

28."This designation signals our commitment to identifying and attacking the financial ties between the criminal underworld and terrorism,” stated Juan Zarate, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes.  “We are calling on the international community to stop the flow of dirty money that kills.  For the Ibrahim syndicate, the business of terrorism forms part of their larger criminal enterprise, which must be dismantled."

29. A press release of the US Department said: "Dawood Ibrahim, an Indian crime lord, has found common cause with Al Qaida, sharing his smuggling routes with the terror syndicate and funding attacks by Islamic extremists aimed at destabilizing the Indian government.  He is wanted in India for the 1993 Bombay Exchange bombings and is known to have financed the activities of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (Army of the Righteous), a group designated by the United States in October 2001 and banned by the Pakistani Government -- who also froze their assets -- in January 2002. "

30. A fact sheet attached to the press release said: "Ibrahim's syndicate is involved in large-scale shipments of narcotics in the UK and Western Europe. The syndicate's smuggling routes from South Asia, the Middle East and Africa are shared with Osama Bin Laden and his terrorist network. Successful routes established over recent years by Ibrahim's syndicate have been subsequently utilised by bin Laden. A financial arrangement was reportedly brokered to facilitate the latter's usage of these routes. In the late 1990s, Ibrahim travelled in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban."

31. It added: "Ibrahim's syndicate has consistently aimed to destabilise the Indian Government through inciting riots, acts of terrorism and civil disobedience. He is currently wanted by India for the March 12,1993, Bombay Exchange bombings, which killed hundreds of Indians and injured over a thousand more."

32. It also said: "Information from as recent as Fall 2002, indicates that Ibrahim has financially supported Islamic militant groups working against India, such as Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LET). For example, this information indicates that Ibrahim has been helping finance increasing attacks in Gujarat by LET. "

33. The Dawood Ibrahim mafias group has not so far come to notice for indulging in acts of piracy. But, it is the most well-equipped, well-motivated and well-resourced trans-national crime group of the South Asian region, with wide networking not only with other similar trans-national crime groups in South-East and West Asia and southern Africa, but also with Al Qaeda and the members of bin Laden's international Islamic Front (IIF). India has strong reasons to apprehend that the shipping resources which it commands would be available for acts of maritime terrorism contemplated by Al Qaeda and the IIF.

34. India notes with regret and concern that more than a year after the USA called for action against this group under the UNSC Resolution No.1373, no action has been taken against it by Pakistan.


35.What are the probabilities of a major act of maritime terrorism by Al Qaeda and other groups affiliated to it in the IIF? Would their acts of maritime terrorism be of a strategic or a tactical nature? The vast majority of the acts of maritime terrorism reported since 1985 when the Palestinian Liberation Front hijacked an Italian cruise ship have been of a tactical nature  meant to facilitate acts of terrorism on the land through gun-running, narcotics smuggling, clandestine transport of terrorists etc The attack on the US naval ship USS Cole off Aden by Al Qaeda in October,2000, was also of a tactical nature meant to give expression to its anger against the USA.

36. Some of the thwarted acts of maritime terrorism by suspected Al Qaeda elements in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia were also of a tactical nature and the attacks contemplated were reportedly against US naval ships visiting the ports in the region. The contemplated acts, like the attack on USS Cole, would come under the category of punishment terrorism.

37. The only acts of a strategic nature meant to achieve not a tactical gain, but a strategic objective have been those of the LTTE, which were meant to weaken the military and economic capabilities of Sri Lanka in order to achieve its final objective of an independent Tamil State. The only attack of a strategic nature by a jihadi terrorist group was reported in October,2002, when  a boat containing explosives hit the French-flagged very large crude carrier (VLCC) Limburg off  Yemen, killing and injuring some members of the crew and badly damaging the vessel. The tanker had a capacity of 300,000 tonnes, but was loaded with only 55,000 tonnes at the time of the attack. The terrorists apparently  knew how the vessel was loaded because they hit one of the full tanks at its exact centre. The attack disrupted temporarily but seriously Yemen’s oil exports.


38. Disruption of the economy of the adversary has always been an important strategic objective of terrorist organisations, whether they be of the ethnic, ideological, religious or sectarian kind. The kidnapping of the oil ministers of the OPEC (Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) by the group led by Carlos at Vienna in 1975 had a twin objective----partly economic to create panic in the oil market and partly extortionist to win ransom payments for their release. Amongst subsequent acts of  terrorism with an economic motive or impact, one could mention the explosions carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in London's financial district in the 1980s, the explosion in the New York World Trade Centre in February,1993, the simultaneous explosions outside economic targets in Mumbai (Bombay) in March,1993, the Bali and Mombasa explosions of 2002, the subsequent Casablanca, Istanbul and Madrid explosions, the attacks on foreign experts working in the oil industry in Saudi Arabia since the beginning of this year, the attacks on oil pipelines in Iraq by suspected foreign terrorists and the recent Sinai explosions directed against Israeli tourists. Almost all these attacks since 1993 were carried out by jihadi terrorist organisations, which share the  pan-Islamic objective of Osama bin Laden.

39. However, all these acts of economic terrorism were carried out on land and not on the sea. Purely from the economic point of view, a well-planned and well-executed act of economic terrorism on land-based targets would produce  a much better result for the terrorists than an act of economic terrorism on the high seas, unless such an attack was carried out at neurological choke points for maritime trade. The attraction of an act of maritime terrorism on the high seas is its psychological effect on the minds of the States and the captains of industry and the resulting cascading effect. The psychological impact would be not only on the minds of the policy-makers and economic managers of the targeted state, but also on those of other States in the region and even in the rest of the globe, even though they might not  have been directly targeted.

40. In view of this, the fact that there has till now been no major act of strategic maritime terrorism should not lead to complacency. In an interview  to the "Lloyd's List", Britain's shipping newspaper, extracts of which were disseminated by news agencies on August 6, 2004, Admiral Sir Alan West of the British Navy was quoted as saying that Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups had realised the importance of global maritime trade and could launch attacks against merchant ships. He added: "We have got an underlying level of intelligence which shows there is a threat. What we’ve noticed is that Al Qaeda and other organisations have an awareness about maritime trade. They've realised how important it is for world trade in general (and) they understand the significance. Sea-borne terrorism could potentially cripple global trade and have grave knock-on effects on developed economies. We’ve seen other plans from intelligence of attacks on merchant shipping. I can’t give you clear detail on any of that, clearly, but we are aware that they have plans. Ship owners realise that there are vulnerabilities and they realise how important the navy is to actually protect them." He further said that the  so-called maritime choke points such as the Strait of Gibraltar and the Suez Canal were at the greatest risk due to their high concentration of shipping in small areas.

41. In the lectures and discussions in the jihadi madrasas of Pakistan, the possibility of two types of maritime terrorist operations on the high seas often figure. The first involves either the infiltration of the crew of a ship or the use of a ship or boat controlled by the terrorists and the second involves the use of an aircraft either hijacked or otherwise controlled through the infiltration of jihadi elements into its crew. The crashing of an aircraft against a naval or merchant vessel or an oil tanker has had a certain fascination for jihadi terrorists ever since 9/11.


42. Effective maritime counter-terrorism, like effective counter-terrorism on land, is dependent on the following: 

  • A good intelligence collection capability in respect of human (HUMINT) as well as technical (TECHINT) intelligence.
  • Effective physical security.
  • A good crisis management capability if the terrorists manage to carry out an act of maritime terrorism.
  • Regional and international co-operation in the form of intelligence sharing, mutual operational assistance, mutual legal assistance and effective enforcement of internationally-agreed measures to thwart maritime terrorism.


43. Two types of maritime terrorism strikes are possible: (a). Those planned and mounted from one's own territory; and (b). Those planned and mounted from a foreign territory. While the ability to prevent the first type would depend on one's own national intelligence capability, the ability to prevent the second type would, to a considerable extent, depend also on the intelligence capability of the country from which the terrorist strike is planned. Hence, unless different nations in a region or in the globe as a whole develop national intelligence capabilities which supplement each other's and help to take care of the deficiencies of each other, the development of a national intelligence capability alone may not suffice in the international fight against maritime terrorism.

44. The sharing of available intelligence alone may not be adequate. There is a need for joint operational planning and execution to identify each other's deficiencies and help each other in removing those deficiencies. Practices such as joint spotting of intelligence talents, joint recruitment and running of sources, joint interrogation of suspects etc have to be adopted in increasing measure. National intelligence agencies tend to be averse to such joint operational planning and execution of plans even among themselves on grounds of operational security, not to talk of joint planning and execution with foreign intelligence agencies. The time has come to get over such reservations.


45. Effective physical security has two important components. Firstly, a thorough verification of the character and antecedents of new recruits to airline and shipping companies and continuous in-service verification to prevent the infiltration of terrorists and/ or their sympathisers into the staff of the companies and, more particularly, into the crew of planes and ships. The idea of sleeper cells in planes and ships is not so far-fetched as it may seem, particularly in the case of jihadi terrorist organisations. Secondly,  a thorough access control and denial.

46.  Verification of character and antecedents of recruits and in-service personnel is an extremely difficult task in the case of merchant ships since they recruit at many ports and from different nationalities. Is it possible to lay down uniform standards of verification and ensure their implementation? Even if this is not possible at the global level, how to ensure it at the national and regional levels? These are questions, which need attention.

47.Control and denial of access has to be from the land, the air and as well as the sea in respect of ports and other vulnerable coastal installations such as off-shore oil installations, oil refineries, nuclear and missile establishments etc. While effective practices relating to access control and denial  from the land and the air have evolved over the years, access control and denial from the sea has been receiving serious attention only since 9/11. Development of national capabilities for patrolling along the coasts as well as on the high seas and  joint patrolling of important choke points and sensitive sectors to supplement each other's national capabilities have to go hand in hand. Access denial has to be in respect of suspect human beings as well as suspect cargo in order to prevent the infiltration into the ship of cargo capable of being used for acts of maritime terrorism such as arms and ammunition, explosives, WMD material etc

48. The importance of laying down uniform standards of physical security and having them enforced effectively has been increasingly realised, but the implementation has to be satisfactory. Among the post 9/11 security measures, one could mention the use of  an anti-boarding system involving a 9,000 volt, non-lethal, electric current  surrounding a ship as a possible line of defence against piracy and maritime terrorism, the use of military vessels to escort large commercial ships in regional waters and the intensification of coast guard patrols, the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code including amendments to the Safety of Life at Sea Convention, which came into effect in July 2004.  the Container Security Initiative of the USA etc. However, statistics forthcoming from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) do not indicate any dramatic decline in the number of piracy attacks since the new regulatory regime came into force. If pirates can get through the new security measures, so can terrorists.

49.Unfortunately, many of the new physical security measures which have been brought into force post-9/11 have been dictated by the USA's counter-terrorism concerns relating to the prevention of the use of  maritime traffic to carry out acts of WMD terrorism. They do not adequately meet the concerns of the rest of the world, particularly in the South and South-East Asian region, relating to the use of maritime traffic by terrorist groups to carry out classical acts of terrorism involving the use of more conventional weapons such as explosives. The lack of interest in acting against organisations such as the LTTE, which already have a well-developed maritime terrorism capability, but which do not pose a threat to Western and particularly American lives and economic and other interests and in enforcing punitive measures against States such as Pakistan and Bangladesh, which connive at classical acts of maritime terrorism such as gun running etc by terrorist and mafia groups aligned with them, is an example of the US interests predominating over those of others.

50.The International Maritime Bureau's annual piracy report for 2002 released on January 29, 2003, said  that terrorist attacks like the one in the Gulf of Aden in  October, 2002,  when the French tanker Limburg was rammed by a boat packed with explosives, were difficult to prevent. "No shipboard response can protect the ship in these circumstances," it pointed out. It added that the only answer was for coastal states to make sure that approaches to their ports were secure. It recommended that port authorities designate approach channels under Coast Guard or police supervision from which all unauthorized craft would be banned. "The risk of terrorist attack can perhaps never be eliminated, but sensible steps can be taken to reduce the risk. The issue here is how seriously do the governments take the threat of maritime terrorism... Post-Limburg, we cannot continue to hope for the best and ignore the lessons," it said.

51.According to the report, most of the 370 piracy attacks reported world-wide during 2002 occurred while ships were at anchor. A marked increase in successful boarding of anchored vessels  by pirates combined with a drop in the number of attempted attacks on moving ships was the feature of 2002. There was a substantial rise in hijackings from 16 to 25 incidents. Many involved smaller boats, such as tugs, barges and fishing boats, in the Malacca Straits and Indonesian waters. Crime syndicates in the area were believed to be targeting vessels carrying valuable palm oil and gas oil. Commenting on the report,  Captain Pottengal Mukundan, a senior official of the IMB, said: "In some parts of the world it is all too easy to board a merchant vessel unlawfully. Against the current concern in respect of maritime terrorism, it is vital that coastal states allocate resources to patrolling their waters more effectively. Failing this, we do not foresee a reduction in these incidents."


52. The crisis management drills laid down by many countries till 9/11 largely catered to the requirements of situations such as hijacking of aircraft, hostage-taking on the ground, use of explosives etc. Little attention was paid to devising crisis management drills tailor-made to cater to terrorist strikes on the sea, which could involve not only large human casualties and disruption of maritime traffic, but also serious damage to the environment. Moreover, while the effectiveness of the crisis management in the case of land-based and air-borne terrorist strikes would largely depend on national capabilities, these alone may not be sufficient in managing crisis situations arising  from a major act of maritime terrorism. An enmeshing of national capabilities into a workable regional capability would be necessary. The devising of a regional crisis management drill  and the holding of periodic rehearsals  at the regional level to test their efficacy would be necessary.


53. Certain aspects of this co-operation such as those relating to intelligence collection and sharing, physical security and crisis management have already been touched upon in the previous paragraphs. Another aspect relates to mutual operational and legal assistance. Mutual operational assistance relates to action taken by the Navy or the Coast Guard of one country to apprehend terrorists involved in acts of maritime terrorism against another country and mutual legal assistance is about their prosecution, extradition or handing over by the police of the apprehending country to that of the victim country.

54. A good example of such mutual legal assistance relating to piracy was seen on  February 25, 2003, when an Indian court  sentenced 14  Indonesian pirates to seven years imprisonment each for hijacking a  Japanese-owned vessel, Alondra Rainbow, off the coast of Indonesia in October 1999. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) hailed the decision as  a rare move by a national court to assume jurisdiction over a crime committed in international waters. The IMB said: "'The Indian authorities should be praised for the tough stance they have taken on this case and for having the courage to see it through when a state with less conviction may have opted not to. Particularly as it involves a foreign ship, carrying a foreign cargo, hijacked by foreign nationals in the waters of another country." The Indian Coast Guard had co-operated with the IMB and the Indonesian Navy in tracking down the hijacked ship and arresting the culprits. The Indian court action was taken under Article 105 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

55. Unless such mutual operational and legal assistance becomes the rule rather than an exception, the fight against piracy and maritime terrorism would be ineffective.


56.Piracy not amounting to terrorism has been on the increase. Piracy against the world’s shipping increased  by 37 per cent in the first half of 2003 from the same period in the previous year with a record 234 attacks reported. Waters off Indonesia were the most dangerous with 64 attacks; 15 attacks occurred in the Malacca Straits while other attacks were reported near Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam (ICC Commercial Crime Services, 2003a). During 2002, Indonesia again experienced the highest number of attacks, with 103 reported incidents. Piracy attacks in Bangladesh ranked the second highest with 32  and India was the third with 18 attacks.

57.While there is so far no evidence of any linkages between jihadi terrorist organisations forming part of the IIF and the piracy groups operating in the South and the South-East Asian region, there is evidence of the ethnic terrorist/insurgent groups operating in the Indonesian region increasingly resorting to acts of piracy amounting to terrorism in order to earn money for their struggle against the Indonesian Government. A statement issued by the IMB on  September 2, 2003, warned that gangs of heavily armed pirates using fishing and speed boats were  targeting small oil tankers in the Malacca Straits. It added that  the  wave of attacks followed a pattern set by Indonesian Aceh rebels. Commenting on the warning, Capt. Mukundan said that  the latest attacks raised a number of serious concerns. "In addition to the obvious threat to human life and potential environmental damage, we are very concerned about politically motivated attacks against vessels."

58.He  said that there was evidence to suggest that Aceh rebels were responsible for the growing piracy in the area. Their principal motivation, he said, was to fund their political cause by holding hostages for ransom. "Political piracy threatens to rewrite the rules of engagement. Authorities need to recognize the motives behind these crimes and adopt new methods of tracking and deterring them."

59.According to him, the frequency of attacks had increased. In late July, 2003, there were three attempted boardings in less than a week off the Sumatra coast in the Malacca Straits. Pirates fired automatic weapons at an LPG tanker, a gas tanker and an oil tanker. On each occasion, preventive measures deployed by the crew thwarted the attack. In another  case, the Malaysian-registered tanker Penrider was carrying 1,000 tonnes of fuel oil aboard when she was attacked some 12 miles from Port Klang, Malaysia. The Penrider was en route from Singapore to Penang when a fishing boat containing 14 pirates armed with AK-47 and M-16 assault rifles intercepted the ship. After robbing the crew and forcing it to sail into Indonesian waters, the pirates took the Master, Chief Engineer and a crewman hostage, leaving the ship to continue its passage. After protracted ransom negotiations, the hostages were returned unharmed. A crewman on the Penrider told police the pirates were clad in fatigues and claimed to be Aceh soldiers. The Malaysian police claimed that the modus operandi was similar to that of an Aceh group thought to be responsible for many other attacks along the Straits of Malacca.

60.It was reported by news agencies that although the attack bore all the hallmarks of being Aceh sponsored, elements of it  left officials wondering whether it was indeed the work of the rebels or that of opportunists copying their methods. It was the first such attack by Indonesian pirates so close to the Malaysian coast and so far South of Aceh.Capt.Mukundan said: 'We need to determine if this is an escalation in political piracy. Politically motivated pirates are prepared to take greater risks to further their cause. We have seen the devastation that can be caused in other parts of the world. Whether these attacks are politically motivated or not, the fact that vessels carrying sensitive cargoes are being targeted is a matter of great concern."

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-Mail: )