Andamans hot spot for illegal survey ships

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Old 22-Jun-2010
Andamans hot spot for illegal survey ships

New Delhi, June 21

The seas around the Andaman and Nicobar islands are on the radar of survey ships scanning the seabed for crude oil and minerals. The Indian Navy has been reporting sightings of ships in international waters around the islands, however, two incidents in the past three months have raised the bar in terms of vigil.

Two ships, one Chinese and another owned by a US company, had ventured very close to India’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) near the islands in the past three months. They were “asked to leave the area” by the joint coastal security set-up comprising the Navy and the Coast Guard, sources said. The two ships were survey ships of private companies trawling to look for oil and natural gas.

Sources said the sea between the Andamans and Myanmar is the one where the ships of foreign countries usually trawl about. Huge gas finds to the tune of 7.7 trillion cubic meters off the coast of Myanmar at Shwe, has “ignited” a keen interest. The Chinese control this gas field.

With the coast-based radars having being upgraded, there is little chance of any big ship to go unnoticed, sources said, adding that the area in the region is “keenly observed” due to its strategic importance.

The ships in international waters outside the EEZ - 370 km from the coast - cannot be asked to move. As per international law, the company that finds oil in international waters can bore oil-rig. However, the rule does not apply within the EEZ of a country. In the latter case, the ownerships rest with the country and drilling cannot be undertaken unilaterally.

A senior Naval officer said modern survey ships need not drop anchor to scan the seabed. Technology now allows the ships to release a remote operated vehicle into the sea. The ship can move and return after a few hours to “pick up” the remote vehicle.

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