New Offshore Infrastructure

Sub Title : New threats and challenges will require well considered security mechanisms

Issues Details : Vol 17 Issue 2 May – Jun 2023

Author : Dr Vijay Sakhuja, Former Director, National Maritime Foundation

Page No. : 48

Category : Geostrategy

: May 27, 2023

India’s march to develop and harness the potential of Blue Economy in a sustainable manner has already begun. The density of offshore digital, energy and potable water infrastructure (platforms, pipelines, cables and the associated systems) will keep increasing in and around coastal areas. This will pose new threats and challenges which would require well considered security mechanisms

Nearly a decade and half ago the Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamist terrorist organisation from Pakistan, carried out a maritime terror attack in Mumbai in India. As many as 175 people including nine terrorists were killed and more than 300 people wounded. The attacks had exposed the porous nature of India’s coastline as also demonstrated the reality of terrorism “from the sea”. Post-Mumbai terror attacks, the Indian government announced a slew of measures (organisational, operational and infrastructure) to enhance maritime domain awareness and security-defence of the coastal areas and related air space. Since then, the Indian Navy is entrusted with the responsibility of the overall maritime security of the country and the Naval Commanders-in-Chief  designated as

Cs-in-C of Coastal Defence. The Indian Coast Guard is designated as the authority responsible for coastal security in territorial waters, including areas to be patrolled by Coastal Police.

At the operational level, between 2011 and 2021, the Indian Navy and Coast Guard have conducted more than 300 coastal security exercises. Among these, Exercise Sagar Kavach is conducted every six months to check the coastal security mechanism and validate SOPs. Similarly, Exercise Sea Vigil aims at creating greater synergy between coastal defence and coastal security. It is evident from the above operational exercises that the focus of Indian Navy, the Coast Guard and the Marine Police is on security of the 7516 kilometers of the Indian coast and prevent any intrusion by an enemy or a non-state actor such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

At another level, the Indian coast is home to offshore infrastructure such as offshore energy exploration and production platforms that are within country’s Exclusive Economic Zones. These come under the purview of Offshore Development Area (ODA) security and the Flag Officer Defence Advisory Group (FODAG) is responsible for planning and advising the Navy and ONGC on the security and defence of offshore oil and gas installations off Maharashtra and Gujarat coasts.

Since 2011, a Chain of Static Sensors (CSS) consisting of 46 radar (X band and S-band) stations has been set up for monitoring and surveillance of the coast. These are capable of tracking small fishing vessels as also used for VTS (Vessel Traffic Management Services) applications and harbour security purposes.

The IMO mandated international maritime security requirements such as the Automatic Identification System (AIS) and Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) systems for ships provide for identification and tracking of ships to enhance security of shipping and for the purposes of safety and marine environment protection.

The above maritime security mechanisms have proven robust; however newer challenges are emerging for the maritime security and law enforcement agencies. There are at least four offshore (on the surface and underwater) infrastructures that merit attention.

Fiber Optic Cables

The global trends in digital connectivity are the catalyst for the growing number of fiber optic cables that crisscross the ocean floors connecting billions of people through smart systems and devices. According to, as of January 2023, there were 5.16 billion internet users worldwide, which is 64.4 percent of the global population. Similarly, the current number of internet of things (IoT) platforms is assessed at 400 and the IoT devices will increase by 18% to 14.4 billion in 2023, 27 billion by 2025, and 29.4 billion IoT devices by 2030. This will involve gigantic data (generated-shared) in zettabytes (ZB) and in the long run in yotobytes (YB), and stored in special central and compacted storage spaces called Data Centres.

These Data Centres are now being positioned underwater closer to the shores that offer cheap power sources to make it more affordable. For instance, in Singapore, Keppel Data Centres and Toll Group plan to install a floating data centre at the Loyang Offshore Supply Base. It is expected to be ‘environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient’ and would use seawater for cooling. Another important consideration for underwater location is that fiber networks should be near the end-user to reduce latency.

Both data cables and data storages are prone to espionage, underwater attacks by saboteurs, damage due to underwater movement of tectonic plates, commercial fishing and anchoring, and marine life like sharks are known to gnaw the data cables. These can cause disruptions and “on average, there are over a hundred breaks of submarine cables every year, caused in general by the fishing boats that pull the anchors. It is difficult to measure intentional attacks”.

Offshore Wind Farms

The international community’s willingness to address climate change and commitment to achieve Net-zero targets has led to significant investments in renewable energy. According to Global Landscape of Renewable Energy Finance 2023 , the global investment in energy transition technologies in 2022, including energy efficiency, reached US$ 1.3 trillion, up 19% from 2021 investment levels, and 70% from before the pandemic in 2019. The focus is on wind and solar power and governments have encouraged investments in building associated infrastructure.

The Indian government has “adopted an extremely ambitious target anticipating combined solar and wind capacity addition of 36 GW annually up to FY 2030”.  The government has also promoted offshore wind power and in 2015 it announced the “National offshore wind energy policy” to be executed by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy who shall be responsible for overall monitoring of offshore wind energy development in the country. Coastal areas off the States of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu have been identified as potential zones for development.

These mammoth windmills pose unique challenges due to construction, operation or maintenance as also attract accidents.  Human injuries/fatal accidents could be on account of “diving, collisions, evacuations, extreme weather, structural failures, equipment failures, falling hazards, electrical hazards, and spatial hazards”. In particular, Search and Rescue can be a major challenge given that the helicopters have to navigate through the windmills and may collide with the long blades.

There have also been instances of allision (maritime accidents where a vessel strikes a stationary object). In 2022, MV Julietta D, an abandoned vessel, drifted into a wind farm. More recently, in April 2023, Petra L, a cargo ship, hit an offshore wind turbine at Gode Wind 1. According to the German water police, it sustained massive damage and reported water ingress but was able to make it to port at Emden, Germany. The offshore wind turbine involved has been taken out of operation for further investigation.

Offshore hydrogen production

Closely associated are emerging projects involving production of offshore green hydrogen. It has been observed that by “placing hydrogen electrolysers on offshore wind turbines is likely to be the quickest and cheapest way of providing fossil-free hydrogen at the scale needed to reduce emissions from heavy industries such as steel and chemicals.” The European Union has estimated that the “demand for climate-neutral hydrogen will touch 2,000 terawatt hours (TWh) by 2050, and according to a study by DNV there is “potential to produce 300 TWh of hydrogen using electricity from offshore wind farms in the North Sea by 2050” which would reduce considerably energy imports. Furthermore “…areas located over 100 km from the coastline offer lower levelized costs of production. At this distance, it costs more per energy unit to transport electricity than to carry hydrogen via pipeline,” This is a significant development and adds to the challenges of maritime security and safety agencies.

In January 2023, the Indian government approved the National Green Hydrogen Mission under which the country aims to be the “global hub for the production, utilisation, and export of green hydrogen and its derivatives”. This will also ensure energy security as well as decarbonising multiple sectors of the economy that are dependent on fossil fuels thereby reducing nearly 50 MMT of annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Meanwhile a hydrogen-fuelled electric vessels (a passenger ferry) is under construction at the Cochin Shipyard Limited and is expected to be delivered in 2023. The National Green Hydrogen Mission also resonates with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) call for the reduction in the carbon intensity of international shipping by at least 40% by 2030 and progressively to 70% by 2050.

Desalination Plants

It is well known that global demand for fresh water is increasing, and sea water is now being processed to provide potable water (clean & fresh drinking water), for agriculture and industry. There are numerous desalination techniques for removing salts and impurities, for a wide range of solute concentrations in water. In particular, desalination of sea water has become increasingly popular, but attracts several environmental risks due to salt levels in seawater, which affects marine life. It is also energy-intensive process and is expensive. Besides, this infrastructure is vulnerable to attacks. For instance, Israel’s coastal desalination facilities have been a target for both rocket and cyber-attacks, but its defense systems have withstood these challenges.

In conclusion, India’s march to develop and harness the potential of Blue Economy in a sustainable manner has already begun. The above offshore digital, energy and potable water infrastructure (platforms, pipelines, cables and the associated systems) will witness high density of traffic in and around coastal areas. These would add to the existing maritime clutter on account of dense fishing activity and pose newer threats and challenges which require unique response capabilities for an enhanced domain awareness.