Experience clearly suggests that managing lawlessness, criminality, thefts, scams/frauds… are quite demanding in themselves. To expect that the Commissioner of Police should also supervise and monitor activities on our territorial high seas, maritime emergencies may be demanding too much for a single agent of the state
By Jan Arden
Fifty-five years after independence, the road has been at times rickety but many would feel that thankfully our institutions, the quality of people at their helm, and the inbuilt separation of powers between the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary, with an independent media, have stood the test of times and steered us through the tricky patches where our national unity or even our economic development itself could have been unsettled. While this can be a simplistic schematisation, it is the background of the realities that have been evolving constantly over 55 years and that have emerged with particular vigour over the past decade.
On the Indian Ocean front, the realisation of international agreements over maritime economic jurisdictions and the amicable delimitations where there is overlap with the Seychelles or Maldives, for instance, has raised our national profile from that of an island to a maritime state covering some two million square kilometres and extending from Rodrigues through St Brandon to the Chagos, Agalega and up to the Seychelles. We have recognised this millennium that we are a blue ocean maritime state with newer demands to monitor, control and exercise professional naval and legal jurisdiction over a vast territory. Quite apart from the sovereign exploitation of fisheries and any other maritime resources over this vast expanse.
We can certainly rely and benefit from technical assistance from traditional allies with established naval capacities in the region, most notably France and India, which already have a functioning mutual agreement for sharing of facilities in order to maintain free navigation lines and keep piracy at bay. The maintenance of the American Diego base within a new cadre of national sovereignty and the infrastructure being finalised by India in Agalega, which the PM has assured would be under national control, are other useful adjuncts to monitor maritime traffic, maintaining free navigation and sustain how we develop intelligently our ambitions in the Indian Ocean. But whether we can rely on the actual structures, personnel and reporting lines of the National Coast Guard (NCG) to be a full-fledged and respected partner to keep watch over our high-water expanse, should be open to a strategic rethink.
The Wakashio disaster a few kms away from our beaches at Pointe d’Esny, brought home the point that the NCG, despite its personnel and resources (a fleet of vessels of varying capacities, a flotilla of helicopters and Dornier aircraft, some based at SSR airport, a few minutes’ flight from the beaching and ultimate wreckage site), had neither the operational autonomy, nor perhaps fully-trained maritime safety and rescue operators, to prevent an emergency situation from developing, nor a beaching on our coral reefs turning into a pathetic wreckage. We do not know what our network of radars and the radio control operations revealed, as the Court’s findings are still held confidential.
While hundreds of Mauritians desperately deployed considerable efforts to tie up artisanal booms to contain the oil spill, we were shocked to read that kilometres of booms were preciously hoarded in the MPA hangars in case of an event in the port area. Obviously, the authorities need to study the Court report, but there is little reason not to make at least its key findings and recommendations public, if only to gain perspective and input from a variety of knowledgeable parties beyond ministries and agencies which have spent more time passing the buck than tackling the issues.
Lack of clear responsibility and authority to prevent and handle such an emergency together with a line of reporting through the Commissioner of Police, who has numerous other demands, to the PMO, which may be even busier, has not been of demonstrable value so close to our shores. The authorities and the Opposition could certainly revisit the scope, mandate, authority and professionalism needed if we are to live up to the basic ambitions of safety and security around our island and on the wider expanse of our maritime territory.
Fifty-five years after independence, it is time to consider the advisability of the operational and budgetary independence of the NCG to turn it into a full-fledged National Maritime Authority, headed by a Mauritian and with a direct line of communication to the National Security Adviser/PMO. In cases of any emergency around our shores except the Port area, on the high seas or around our outer islands, that Authority should be the mandated agency for coordinating the input and action of all other departments and ministries.
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National Maritime Authority
Another evolution that has become all too highly visible in the past ten years is the flourishing of drug trafficking and illicit trade at huge financial scales from and to our neighbouring island states, namely Reunion and Madagascar. The layman might have thought that all our financial sleuths in a variety of institutions (from the FIU to the MRA and the Central Bank) should have detected things amiss far earlier. The information that might have been available from Reunion services but which seems to flow with reticence, is rather damning. As for the authorising institutions for land leases and rave parties, or the vigilance of our field intelligence officers or the supervision of our police force, these different agencies should have had serious grounds for far earlier investigation in the Franklin network saga.
Tragically, ICAC is only concerned with the money-laundering aspects that accompanies illicit trade, of which drug trafficking and gambling are the two main constituents. We do not know whether the Police have started any concomitant enquiry on the drug trade aspects. We gather that most of ADSU has been now dismantled and replaced by a new unit as recommended three years ago by the Lam Shang Leen report on drugs.
That report also highlighted that the Port and fast boats plying their trade to and from Reunion and Madagascar, landing directly on our west coast by night or discharging their criminal goods into the nearby sea for later pickup by smaller boats, were matters of high concern. It is quite possibly beyond the reach of the NCG to maintain a close monitoring of fast boats capable to ply such illicit traffic that has clearly reached professional levels of criminality. Which might be another reason to entrust a future National Maritime Authority, working in synch with Reunion and other local agencies, namely Police and financial institutions, with the added vital responsibility to monitor and control all such drug traffic through maritime pathways from and to our shores.
Maritime specialists believe that neither a reliable register of skippers and fast boats, nor out of the ordinary fuel purchases, nor mandatory permanent GPS modules aboard such fast boats, nor other monitoring measures should be beyond the reach of a more dedicated maritime surveillance structure.
The Commissioner of Police has an essential constitutional role but experience clearly suggests that managing lawlessness, criminality, thefts, scams/frauds and stamping down the distribution of drugs in villages and townships are quite demanding in themselves. To expect that he should also with equal effectiveness supervise and monitor activities on our territorial high seas, maritime emergencies, and the ruses of drug barons using fast boats for their hugely lucrative trade, may be demanding too much for a single agent of the state, whatever the merits and conveniences such a single locus provided in the past. The country should give serious consideration to novel alternatives for reasons outlined above.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 24 March 2023
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