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May - 2013 ISSUE

Force Magazine
Guest Column - Force Magazine
Layers upon Layers
PLA Navy submarines in the Indian Ocean Region has far-reaching implications
 
Admiral Arun Prakash (Retd)By Admiral Arun Prakash (retd)
Recent reports that ‘Chinese submarines’ had been detected in the Indian Ocean caused a transient flutter in the Indian media but, typically, there was lack of clarity about the source as well as veracity of the reports. One TV channel claimed to have ‘exclusive access’ to a report received by the ministry of defence (MoD) drawing attention to ‘22 unknown submarine contacts’ that were, apparently, detected by Indian Navy (IN) and US Navy (USN) units in the Indian Ocean.

Sources were quoted to provide a geographical breakdown, indicating that six of these submarine contacts were picked up north-west of the Straits of Malacca (i.e. in the vicinity of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands), 13 of them off Dondra Head (south of Sri Lanka) and two as far away as the Arabian Sea. Indian and US intelligence sources were reported, by the media, to have confirmed the origin of these putative submarines as Chinese since it was the only ‘other navy’ that could operate in these areas. While discussing these reports, there is need to remind the reader of two important facts, at the outset.
Firstly, the UN Convention for Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) permits unfettered freedom of navigation on the high seas, and a foreign warship or submarine has as much right to be in the Bay of Bengal as a similar Indian vessel would in the South China Sea. Even in territorial seas, i.e. waters regarded as sovereign territory of a State, there exists the right of ‘innocent passage’ for all vessels. Passage is ‘innocent’ so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State. Acts that may vitiate innocent passage include the use of weapons, operation of aircraft, undertaking research or survey activities, and causing pollution. In the case of submarines, while passing through territorial waters they are required to navigate on the surface and to show their national flag; otherwise, they are free to remain submerged.

A Chinese Navy nuclear-powered submarine sails during an international fleet review to celebrate the 60th
anniversary of the founding of People’s Liberation Army Navy off Qingdao
A Chinese Navy nuclear-powered submarine sails during an international fleet review to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of People’s Liberation Army Navy off Qingdao

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