Force Magazine
Guest Column - Force Magazine
Maritime Terror
The threats are real, even if they don’t strike us immediately
Cmde Lalit Kapur (retd)
By Cmde Lalit Kapur (retd)

Admiral of the Fleet Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy and the first Governor General of India, was enjoying the sea while on holiday at his summer home in Classiebawn Castle, just 12 miles from the border with Northern Ireland. On 27 August 1979, he went aboard his boat Shadow V for a day of fishing, along with five close family members and one crew.

Unknown to him, Thomas McMahon, one of the Provisional Irish Republican Army’s most experienced bomb-makers, had boarded the unguarded Shadow V during the night and planted a 50 pound radio controlled bomb on board. The boat had barely put out to sea when the bomb was detonated, destroying it completely. Fishermen nearby pulled Lord Mountbatten out of the water, but he had lost both his legs in the blast and died before reaching the shore. His grandson Nicholas and the crewman Paul were also killed, while his daughter’s mother-in-law Doreen (Baroness Brabourne) succumbed to her injuries the next day.

Lord Louis Mountbatten The IRA claimed responsibility for the ‘execution of Dickie Mountbatten’ almost immediately. The Charan Singh-led government of India ordered seven days mourning, but did little by way of concrete action to ensure that this type of terror did not hit India. Neither did succeeding governments, secure in the knowledge that India’s political class rarely thinks of the sea, let alone ventures out on it. The impact of this inaction was felt during the 1993 Mumbai blasts, when the explosives used were brought into the country from the sea. It was felt again during the Mumbai terror attacks of 26-29 November 2008, when the failings of the state in providing security at sea came into prominence. Though subsequent governments have taken some action, maritime terror is as much a part of the challenges the country faces today as the terrestrial variety and there is pressing need to develop a comprehensive and effective mechanism to combat it.

India classifies terror into four varieties, each of which requires a different strategy and tools to deal with. The first is ethno-national terror, which focuses on creation of either a separate state within India, or a separate country. The insurgent groups in the North East are an example. The second is religious terror, designed to exploit religious differences and create schisms in society. Islamic terror is an example. The third is Left Wing Extremism, focused on economic ideology and exemplified by Maoist insurgencies in Jharkand and Chhattisgarh. A fourth is narco-terror, essentially drug violence to create and sustain drug empires. The interests of terrorists of all four categories described above, however, focus on land; they have little to do with the sea. But India has faced a threat of state-supported terror using what are euphemistically called ‘non state actors’ for over two decades. It is the international variety of terror by ‘non-state’ groups that forms the focal area for this article. Given the porous and ‘free’ nature of the sea, they are the ones most likely to turn to maritime terror.

How common is maritime terror? Perhaps the most comprehensive and commonly used unclassified terrorism database in the world is the Global Terrorism Database, maintained by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, USA. It lists over 140,000 terror incidents between 1970 and 2014, covering the entire period except 1993 for which data was lost during an office move. Only 315 of these are classified as maritime terror attacks. This number includes evident errors, such as listing attacks on road bound oil tankers in Afghanistan, a landlocked country, as ‘maritime attacks’ (examples are GTD ID Nos 200912150001 and 200910090005). It also distinguishes maritime attacks from attacks on military targets, even if they are maritime (for example, the Karachi Dockyard Attack by the TTP on 06 September 2014 does not form part of the maritime terror list). If maritime terror constitutes only 0.25 per cent of all terror attacks listed by the GTD today, it does not mean that maritime attacks will remain a rare phenomenon. It is merely reflection of the fact that the sea figures little in the consciousness of the different types of terror groups identified above. The increasing importance of the sea in national life, particularly as India engages with the world, will inevitably turn the attention of terrorist handlers to maritime targets, particularly if they are seen as soft ones.

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