Physical Protection of India’s Critical Maritime Infrastructure: Part 1: Maritime Energy Sector

Sub Title : First of the six part series on physical protection of India’s Critical Information Infrastructure

Issues Details : Vol 13 Issue 2 May/June 2019

Author : Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan, VSM**, VSM, IN (Retd)

Page No. : 23

Category : Military Affairs

: May 25, 2019

Critical Sectors are those that are critical to the nation and whose incapacity or destruction will have a debilitating impact on national security, economy, public health or safety. The National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Committee (NCIIPC) has presented a list of twelve critical infrastructure related to information, six of which have a connect  with the maritime domain. Physical protection aspects of these six will be covered in successive articles. This one dwells on Energy

The protection of critical infrastructure has become a subject of the most intense concern, thanks to rise of the malevolent non-State actor (as also its fraternal twin, the State-sponsored non-State actor). The malevolent actions of these entities are frequently and collectively subsumed in a single word – ‘terrorism’.

An internationally accepted definition of terrorism and a terrorist continues to elude us, largely because of the persistence with which the cliché that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom-fighter” is trotted out. This cliché can easily be shown to be riddled with flaws, but for the purposes of this article, it might be sufficient to note that, as the former President of the United States of America pointed out in 1986, “Freedom fighters do not need to terrorize a population into submission.”

In the wake of horrific terrorist attacks visited upon the United States of America on 11 September 2001-an event that has embedded itself into the global lexicon simply as “9/11” – the Security Council of the United Nations (UNSC) has been wrestling with issues relating to the protection of critical national infrastructure such as communications, emergency services, energy, dams, finance, food, public services, industry, health, transport, gas, public communications, radio and television, information technology, commercial facilities, chemical and nuclear sectors, and water. In seeking the protection of such critical infrastructure, the more significant of the resolutions passed by the UNSC include the following:

  • Paragraph 2 (b) of Security Council Resolution 1373 (2001). This resolution calls on all Member States to “take necessary steps to prevent the commission of terrorist acts, including by provision of early warning to other States by exchange of information”.
  • Security Council Resolution 1566 (2004). This resolution calls on States to prevent criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the purpose of provoking a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons, intimidating a population, or compelling a Government or an international to do commit, or abstain from committing any act.
  • Security Council Resolution 2341 (2017). This resolution, inter alia, invites member States to consider possible preventive measures in the developing national strategies and policies.

And yet, there are a number of complications in any attempt to arrive at a uniform or common understanding of how all these resolutions might best be implemented. To begin with, each sovereign nations-state determines for itself what constitutes its critical infrastructure. This, in and of itself, is a challenge of no small proportions and there are a number of problems in the determination of which assets should be considered ‘critical’.

  • First, because of the myriad interconnections, networks, nodes, links and interdependencies that exist between sectors – most of which are both facilitated and complicated by cyber pathways – it is often difficult to prioritise one infrastructural element over another.
  • Secondly, which segment of infrastructure is – or should be – considered ‘critical’ is quite likely to change over time. Although this lack of permanence is acknowledged and recognised, bureaucracies, and even practitioners – such as the police or the defence forces – are, more often than not, unwilling to accept the huge political risk of removing items from a ‘critical list’, even though this can – and often does – result in a waste of precious resources.
  • Thirdly, priorities accorded within a ‘critical list’ of infrastructure are political in nature and mirror popular fears without necessarily or accurately reflecting prevailing risks or probabilities. For instance, control-systems in respect of traffic lights on city-roads might well be included along with roads in critical urban infrastructure even though the roads themselves may well continue to be functional despite the fact that the traffic lights have gone out. Such ambiguities adversely impact the development of security-measures.
  • Fourthly, an increasingly large quantum of what might intuitively be considered to be critical infrastructure is owned by the private sector. It is estimated that in the case of western democracies, more than 80 per cent of the critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector. As a consequence, the State itself may no longer be able to ensure comprehensive security of critical infrastructure and could well become almost entirely dependent on the private sector for this purpose.
  • Finally, many States increasingly depend on infrastructure and assets that are partially or completely located outside their jurisdiction and over which they have little or no control.

It is obvious that determining which infrastructure-assets are ‘critical’ requires careful judgement and detailed calculation, and, in addition, calls for an extremely

well-defined public/private partnership for the creation and implementation of a policy on the protection (both physical and informational) of this critical infrastructure.  In seeking to integrate these considerations into national and international security frameworks, nation-states must carefully factor the relationship between the public and private sector on the one hand, and, the importance of a particular area of critical infrastructure, on the other. This is a daunting task and one that requires the continuous engagement of all participants concerned.

As in much of the world, in India, too, the subject of the protection of critical infrastructure has been receiving a great deal of attention.  This is hardly surprising given that India has been subjected on a continual basis to the horrors of State-sponsored terrorism from across its western border ever since the late Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in the wake of his country’s resounding defeat to Indian Arms in 1971, laid down the doctrine of ‘bleeding India through a thousand cuts’.  Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) has assiduously explicated this doctrine over the half-a- century or so that has since elapsed.

It is a well-established fact that the physical protection of critical infrastructure can prevent the commission of high-impact terrorist attacks. Consequently, it is quite distressing, and more than little perplexing, to note that while there is a reasonable body of Indian literature covering the protection of critical information-infrastructure and organisational structures such as the Delhi-based National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NCIIPC) have been put in place to coordinate the protection of information-infrastructure, there is very little Indian writing that addresses the physical protection of critical infrastructure.  This is in sharp contrast to the large body of literature on this subject that abounds in the West — including Europe and the USA.

India’s Critical Sectors

India defines Critical Sectors as those that are critical to the nation and whose incapacity or destruction will have a debilitating impact on national security, economy, public health or safety. In 2015 the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Committee (NCIIPC) presented a list of twelve critical sectors. It needs to be noted that this is the list of information-infrastructure.  There could well be critical infrastructure that lies outside the limits of information-infrastructure.  That said, the identified sectors are:

 Energy

 Transportation

 Banking & Finance

 Telecommunication

 Defence

 Space

 Law enforcement, security & intelligence

 Sensitive Government organisations

 Public Health

 Water supply

 Critical manufacturing

 E-Governance

Of this dozen, six- ‘energy’, ‘transportation’, ‘telecommunication’, ‘defence’, ‘space’ and, ‘law-enforcement, security and intelligence’ – are especially relevant to the maritime domain. However, even a relatively cursory examination of issues and processes relevant to the physical protection of each of these sectors is a formidable task that will need far more elastic a word-length limit than that permitted for this piece of writing.  And yet, there is no gainsaying that such an examination is necessary.

Consequently, it is intended to present the subject through a series of six successive articles, each presenting the reader with an overview pertinent to the physical protection of a specified sector of critical infrastructure that is relevant to India’s maritime domain. This article represents the first in this maritime series and deals with Energy.


The impact of the energy sector upon other sectors of the economy, especially in a severely energy-deficient country like India, is inordinately large. As such, its criticality is commensurately high. The production and supply of energy resources relies on a complex system of infrastructure that includes Exploration and Production [E&P])-commonly known as the ‘upstream’ sector – involving a large variety of drilling rigs, processing and control platforms, pipelines, and, numerous types of support ships and vessels. Transportation of petroleum-based energy involves specialised ships, pipelines and associated manifolds, dedicated oil terminals and berths in ports, Single Point Moorings (SPMs), etc. The storage of these products involves strategic oil storage fuel-storage tanks and underground cisterns, above-ground tank-farms, flow stations, and other such infrastructure. Finally, the refining and distribution infrastructure involves refineries (India has the fourth-largest refining capacity in the world) and a network of crude-oil pipelines, product pipelines, natural gas pipelines, and so on. Much of this infrastructure is either ‘maritime’ in nature or has close relational linkages to ‘maritime’ infrastructure.  This is true of non-petroleum-based energy as well. For example, many nuclear power stations use seawater for cooling and are located along the coast. Likewise, in India, the promise of solar energy notwithstanding, it is offshore wind energy that holds the greatest potential. At a wider level, the global interdependence of the energy industry – and its impact on the global economy as well as directly upon that of India – demands that serious consideration be given to addressing its multifarious vulnerabilities.

Terrorist movements and organisations such as the Al Qaeda and the ISIS have attacked facilities and personnel of oil companies in Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and have also captured numerous oil fields.  At one point in the recent past (2015) crude oil extraction, storage and refining facilities was estimated by the UN to be generating income to Al Qaeda of the order of $500 million. As the awareness of ‘easy pickings’ to be had from attacks on energy infrastructure spread within terrorist circles, there has been a sharp rise in the interest shown by terrorist groups in oil and gas infrastructure. According to START (Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism), between 2010 and 2014, Pakistani energy infrastructure was the target of almost as many attacks (439) as the next three States- Yemen (170), Colombia (161), and Iraq (146) – combined. The Philippines, with 73 attacks, rounds out the top five.  The preferred modus operandi has been bombings, though arson and sabotage have also been witnessed in significant numbers of cases.

Insofar as ‘Maritime India’ is concerned, some 56% of India’s proven oil reserves are located offshore.   Offshore production accounts for some 45% of overall indigenous production but only some 16% of India’s overall demand.  These figures mean that not only is it critical to protect infrastructure pertaining to the indigenous exploration and production of offshore oil and its transportation to the shore, but it is equally if not more important to ensure the ‘security-of-energy’ in terms of the oil being imported.  In both cases, the associated infrastructure encompasses a complex mix of shore-based, underwater, and sea-based assets.

Insofar as indigenous offshore production is concerned, there are ten Offshore Development Areas (ODAs) on the western seaboard. These are Mumbai High North, Mumbai High South, Bassein, Panna, Mukta, Heera, Neelam, Laxmi, Gauri and Tapti. These ODAs, which are located at average distances of between 40 nm and 130 nm (i.e., 75-240 km) from the coast are depicted in Figure 1. They contain some 15 process complexes, 7 SBMs, 214 well head platforms, 25-30 oil rigs and a varying number of support vessels. The replacement cost of this infrastructure is estimated to be well upwards of Rs 200,000 crores.

Likewise, as shown in Figure 2, ODAs are located on India’s eastern seaboard within the Krishna Godavari, Mahanadi and Cauvery basins. Active production is ongoing in the KG D6 block being exploited by Reliance; the Ravva field being exploited by Cairn and ONGC, and, the PY 1 & 3 fields being exploited by HOEC and Hardy, respectively.  As in the case of the western ODAs, here, too, there are a number of valuable albeit scattered assets, including, inter alia, two floating Processing Platforms, ten well platforms, some 15 oil-rigs and/or drill-ships, and over a hundred support vessels of varying sizes, descriptions and functions.

The defence of offshore all offshore assets (including the offshore exploration and production infrastructure) is the responsibility of the Indian Navy’s Flag Officer Defence Advisory Group (FODAG), who, since June of 2002, is also the advisor on offshore defence to the Government of India as a whole.  Since there are a number of agencies and organisations that are involved in the security, safety and protection of these offshore energy assets in times short of inter-State armed conflict, coordination in respect of the physical protection of this critical infrastructure is sought to be ensured through an ‘Offshore Security Co-ordination Committee’ (OSCC), chaired by the Director General of the Indian Coast Guard. The OSCC was constituted 1978 and is the apex body for reviewing and evaluating Offshore Security in India. It meets every six months and comprises members drawn from the Indian Navy, the Indian Air Force, the Indian Coast Guard, the IB, the MEA, various echelons of the police, and the ONGC.

At a slightly more granular level is the Regional Contingency Committee, which is chaired by the respective Chief of Staff of the Indian Navy’s Western and Eastern Naval Commands and also meets every six months. In addition to the organisations represented in the OSCC, the RCC has representatives from private players in the upstream oil and natural gas sector.

Physical security is ensured through continuous patrol effected by some 21 light but armed patrol craft, known as ‘Immediate Support Vessels’ (ISVs), manned by Indian Naval personnel. Apart from routine dissuasive and deterrent patrolling, the actual ‘doing’ of whatever needs to be done in the face of a heightened threat is regularly practised via a series of exercises culminating in a contingency-based simulated ‘emergency’ exercise, conducted six-monthly, which bears the generic name “Exercise PRASTHAN”. Emergencies that are practised include, inter alia, anti-hijacking drills and bomb disposal procedures involving the Indian Navy’s Marine Commandos (MARCOS) and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Teams, while testing and honing skills required to combat consequent outbreaks of fire, structural damage, damage from premediated and inadvertent collisions, etc.

Around-the-clock surveillance is crucial to the protection of such critical infrastructure. This is because the UNCLOS limits Coastal States to buttressing the ‘navigational safety’ of artificial islands (which includes, inter alia, drill-rigs, process-platforms, etc.), by creating 500-metre ‘safety zones’ around them. This radius of 500-metres is clearly inadequate for purposes of security. For instance, an explosive-laden speedboat traveling at 30 knots that entered this safety zone would physically collide with the offshore asset in about 32 seconds. Within these 32 seconds, even if a fully-trained security-team with an equally fast interceptor-craft were to be available at the offshore asset itself, it is clearly impossible to realistically identify the vessel as friend or foe, attempt to establish communications, await a response, and, if no response or an unsatisfactory response is received, to then dispatch the security team to intercept the vessel. Although UNCLOS does state that the safety zone “… shall not exceed a distance of 500 metres…except as authorized by generally accepted international standards or as recommended by the competent international organization”, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has yet to approve a single request for an increase in this radius. All that the IMO has done is to task Flag States with ensuring that their vessels do not wrongly enter established safety zones. It is utterly silent on the question of non-State entities and other threats to offshore assets. Consequently, ever since 9/11, noting the failure of international treaty law to provide specific authority for an immediate response to vessels that pose imminent threats to an offshore-asset, States have opted for security measures under the universally recognized concept of right of self-defence to protect life and property from imminent risk of harm. India, too, is using these broad tenets of international law to strengthen its legal framework in protecting its offshore assets. However, the paucity of police-officials, lawyers and judges who are well versed in international maritime law is a major national infirmity that our contemporary strategy must actively address.

For all that, the security of energy-assets is not limited to upstream segments of the oil and natural gas sector alone.  As an example, the FODAG is also responsible for the security of OTEC and Offshore-Wind installations, as stipulated in the “National Offshore Wind Energy Policy – 2015”. Likewise, OTEC-based Low-Temperature Thermal Desalination (LTTD) plants currently provide almost all potable water in Kavaratti, Agatti and Minicoy islands, while similar ones are planned in another six of the islands of this chain, viz., Androth, Amini, Kalpeni, Chetlat, Kadmat and Kalpeni.  These invaluable offshore assets, too, form part of India’s critical maritime infrastructure within the energy sector.

India’s imports of crude oil constitute perhaps the most glaring criticality in terms of maritime infrastructure.  Figure 3 documents the fact that India is currently importing some 4.4 million barrels of oil per day, yielding an import dependency of 80%.

With 7.33 barrels of oil being considered to be equal to one 1 Metric Ton (or ‘Tonne’), India is importing approximately 220,434 thousand tonnes annually. Dividing this value by 365 (days in a year), yields a requirement of 604 thousand tonnes per day. Now, an average crude-oil tanker carries about 80,000 tonnes of crude oil (≈ 0.6 million barrels), while an average Very Large Crude-oil Carrier (VLCC) carries about 250,000 tonnes of crude oil (≈ 1.8 million barrels).  So, to bring in 604 thousand tonnes of oil per day, 8 standard oil tankers must call at Indian ports per day.  It all of this oil were to come on VLCCs, the requirement would be for 2.5 VLCCs per day- i.e., one every 8-12 hours!

These huge VLCCs are needed to feed, for the most part, the northern refineries at Jamnagar, Vadinar, Mathura, Bina, Babina, Bathinda and Koyali, to which list will soon be added Barmer.

In order to discharge their cargo of 250000 to 300000 tonnes of crude oil, each of these oil-laden giant ships tie up to large, purpose-build buoys known as Single Point Moorings (SPMs). Each SPMs is anchored offshore and serves as a mooring point as well as an interconnection for tankers loading or offloading liquid products. The crude oil is transferred from the ship into the buoy using a floating hose. It then enters the SPM, which is connected to a submarine pipeline between the pipeline end manifold (PLEM) on the seabed and the buoy.  The oil is then led to storage tanks ashore via a rigid submarine pipeline. Figure 4 offers a schematic depiction of an SPM:

It takes no great imagination to realise the criticality of this segment of maritime infrastructure related to the energy sector. At present, the safety and security of each SPM, as also that of the VLCC(s) moored at the SPM, is the responsibility of the port authority concerned and, as such, it is the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) that physically discharges this responsibility. However, challenges remain as the CISF claims that the organisation lacks requisite assets and trained personnel.

Ships smaller in size than a VLCC can, of course, go directly to a designated alongside berth (a quay or jetty).  Within the limits established by the concerned port, the safety and security of all assets, including the tankers themselves, is that of the port authority, and this responsibility, once again, is physically discharged by the CISF.

Then there is the whole business of the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) which must be factored while considering energy as a critical infrastructural sector.  However, since this is located ashore rather than in ‘floating tankage’ as is the case with some other countries, it is not directly a maritime issue and, as such, has not been dealt-with in this piece.

It is not just imports of crude oil that the protection of India’s energy-based critical infrastructure must encompass.  India has nearly doubled its refining capacity over the last decade to almost 5 million barrels per day, making it the world’s fourth largest refining centre after the U.S., China and Russia. As a result, the export of refined petroleum-products constitutes India’s second-largest export-commodity.  It is only the very recent rise in the domestic consumption of petroleum products that has brought the export ranking of this commodity down from the Number One position to Number Two.

With India’s external ‘merchandise-trade to GDP ratio’ (imports plus exports divided by GDP) now standing at an impressive decadal average of 36%, and with 95% by volume (and 77% by value) of this merchandise trade moving by sea, the criticality of the nodes of this trade, namely, ports, can hardly be overstated. However, this aspect concerns maritime transportation and to some extent, of course, there is an overlap with energy imports and exports, which are, after all, a type of merchandise-trade that requires.