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“Navigational chart forms the base information layer for any security application”

Vice admiral SK Jha, Chief Hydrographer, Government of India
Vice Admiral SK Jha
Chief Hydrographer, Government of India

<< Indian Naval Hydrographic Department (INHD) provides international quality hydrographic services across the globe. GeoIntelligence spoke to Vice Admiral SK Jha, Chief Hydrographer, Government of India, to understand why India is regarded as a regional power in the field of hydrography in the Indian Ocean Region… >>

Q. Can you brief us about the activities of National Hydrographic Office (NHO)? What kind of surveys does NHO undertake?
The INHD carries out hydrographic data collection (surveys) activities for the production of nautical charts and publications. The regular surveys and updated data ensure availability of latest charts which in turn ensure safe navigation in our waters. We undertake navigational surveys, project surveys for port development and defence related surveys.

In what way has geospatial technology impacted the activities of NHO over the years? How is the technology aiding in maritime security?
Hydrography and cartography have always been utilising geospatial technology towards the production of charts for the last two decades or so. The augmented tools such as extremely accurate positioning and various mapping systems have resulted in further improving the data precision. It has reduced manpower intensive arduous process; however technology has paved the way for more stringent audit processes towards generating cartographic products in much lesser time. The INHD has been at the forefront of imbibing these tools of geospatial technology and incorporating them for further improving its products. The department was one of the first National Hydrographic Offices in the world to have produced and marketed its own Electronic Navigational Charts (ENCs). The ENCs or the charts form the base layer for any marine GIS application including security applications for maritime domain awareness.

Capacity building is one of the major challenges given the pace of technology changes. What is being done in this regard?
INHD has metamorphosed to one of the premier hydrographic offices of the world in the last two decade and has constantly amalgamated the new technology in its stride. Today, it has become our culture to ingrain new technology with ease. We have a replacement procurement system in place as per the existing government policy, wherein the latest genre of equipments are inducted as a continuous process and is in sync with the department’s needs. The ageing ships are being replaced in a phased manner. We are also in the process of building New Survey Training Vessel which will cater to the international demand of training at our National Institute of Hydrography (NIH), Goa. This pursuit to empower the hydrographic capability has paved the way for availability of well trained manpower, enhanced efficiency of data collection, production of nautical charts/ ENCs and publications.

You also impart training to personnel from various countries. Can you tell about it ?
The INHD provides hydrographic training to Indian Navy officers/ sailors, civilian personnel from various maritime authorities/ ports and Foreign Service as well as civilian personnel. The National Institute of Hydrography (NIH) has been recognised as the regional hydrographic centre by the International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO). The NIH also conducts capsule course towards the hydrographic capability development for participants of various nations under the aegis of the IMO/ IHO. We have conducted regular training for most of the countries of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). NIH, Goa has trained about 500 foreign students till now.

Cooperation in hydrography is increasingly seen as an important instrument of diplomacy. How relevant is this in the present scenario when China is trying to strengthen its presence in the IOR?
In consonance with the policy of Indian Navy to foster good relations with foreign navies and build bridges of friendship across the oceans, Indian Naval Survey Ships have been deployed by the Ministry of Defence/ Indian Navy on hydrographic forays in the IOR from 1993. In the IOR, India is regarded as a regional power in the field of hydrography. Under the Government of India initiative of capacity building, we have provided hydrographic assistance by undertaking hydrographic surveys, disaster relief during tsunami and also provided regular training to the countries of IOR. These gestures have improved the bilateral relations with several countries especially Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, Oman, Mozambique, Kenya, Indonesia, etc. Furthermore, as the NAVAREA VIII (Navigation Warning) coordinator on behalf of the Indian Navy, I am duty bound to provide maritime safety services in our assigned area which encompasses the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and major section of the Arabian Sea. The INHD provides maritime safety services in the area with close coordination of all the national coordinators of various nations such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Seychelles and Mauritius. Presently in the IOR, most of the countries look up to India as far hydrographic assistance is concerned. India would continue to provide hydrographic assistance as it has done in the past.

India had sometime back laid its claim to the UN to extend the EEZ from 200 to 350NM. What is the progress on that front?
The Indian submission to the UNCLOS is steered by the Ministry of Ocean Sciences, Government of India. INHD is one of the constituent members responsible for ascertaining/ obtaining the bathymetric data. INHD undertook the mammoth task of collecting bathymetry data in 90s and completed the task. The claim has been submitted to the Commission on Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) of the United Nations in 2010 and is presently awaiting its ratification by the world body.

The maritime dimension is a relatively new factor in the Sino-Indian strategic equation. In this scenario, what do you think is going to be the role of NHO?
As we are aware, major resources of various countries pass through IOR. The Indian peninsula is strategically gifted as it projects into the Indian Ocean and monitors the entire marine trade flowing from either direction. It is imperative that we keep our sea lines of communication open and safe for the trade to flourish. Towards this, the role of the INHD is to provide updated hydrographic charts and nautical products so that mariners safely navigate in our waters. Today, our Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) is far better than a decade ago and our navigational charts play a pivotal role in providing critical information to decision makers from security perspective. Since the navigational chart forms the base information layer for any security application, NHO would continue to provide updated paper charts, electronic navigational charts, nautical publications etc. I foresee usage of 3-D electronic charts and various layers containing maritime information in the near future.

It has been almost a year since you took over as Chief Hydrographer. What do you describe as your major achievement?
INHD is in constant endeavour to provide international quality hydrographic services across the globe. In addition to undertaking hydrographic surveys in Seychelles and Mauritius, the INHD has made inroads in African countries this year by undertaking hydrographic surveys in Mozambique. We have also commissioned, the first time ever, indigenously built catamaran hull type Indian Naval Ship ‘Makar’ in September; and five more of the same class shall be delivered shortly.