It is cooperating with agencies such as the EU Navfor for free flow of international trade in the region as well as around the Horn of Africa.
Speaking at the Indian Ocean Conference in the Maldives recently on the topic of ‘Securing the Indian Ocean Region: Traditional and Non-Traditional Challenges’, Sayyid Badr bin Hamad al Busaidi, Secretary General in Oman’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that maritime security is built upon the foundations of law and operational security.
“Operational security comprises practical resources responsible for the maintenance of peace at sea. “Piracy has been a problem for as long as we have gone to the sea and of course it is not just a matter for history books. In this last decade, piracy has been a significant problem in the western Indian Ocean,” he said.
According to the Middle East Institute, a non-partisan think tank, Oman’s geographical proximity to the Indian Ocean, where Somali pirates operated for years, has made maritime security over the past decade a key pillar of the country’s foreign policy strategy.
Oman is strategically located sharing maritime boundaries with Iran, Yemen and the UAE and land boundary with Saudi Arabia. ‘Oman thus seeks to counter a range of threat scenarios, from piracy to regional tensions, by closely linking maritime security policies to its neutrality-based foreign policy doctrine.
‘For instance, the Royal Navy of Oman (RNO) conducts annual bilateral exercises with its partners from the GCC, India, Pakistan, and the US. RNO also carries out multilateral exercise with its counterparts from other countries.’
In his address, Sayyid Badr said that the solution both then and now has been policing of the sea, conducted by the navies of the states concerned. “The key point here is that very few states have the capacity to do this work alone. We estimate that there are no more than five or six navies in the world that would be able to conduct effective and comprehensive ocean-wide policing operations independent of any other navy.”
He said that the lesson that needs to be learnt is that cooperation is paramount. “There are multiple aspects to this: naval operations need to be coordinated, information both strategic and tactical needs to be shared, navies need to train together, live together, and work together so that over time their cooperation becomes seamless,” Sayyid Badr added.
Sayyid Badr cited Duqm port as an example saying that it sits perfectly at the north-west corner of the Indian Ocean. “We hope in the long term it will become a vital trade hub between the east and west. Between the north and south. We are sometimes questioned by journalists about whether we are hosting this navy or that navy in Duqm. And it is the case that we have agreements with some countries that their navies may seek harbour there.”
He said that the vital point is that in its philosophy Duqm is an open port. “All are welcome. It’s not simply because we want their business rather it is because it is our firm belief that the more the international shipping community, both merchant and naval, share facilities the more likely this will work together peacefully and effectively in the wider ocean environment.”
Sayyid Badr said the key to operational security at sea is a collective approach, collective security builds trust and stability and it is the policy to which all are wholly committed to. “I believe signatories to the UN convention of 1994 now number more than 160 states. So, the roots of law at sea run very deep, and nowadays they have spread very widely.”