India's president calls for better maritime security

ON BOARD INS SUBHADRA, India - India's president on Tuesday stressed the need to improve maritime security, as the energy-hungry nation grows and ramps up offshore oil and gas exploration activity.

Conducting only the 10th presidential fleet review since independence in 1947, Pratibha Patil said safeguarding India's coastal waters was "a major requirement for the social and economic well-being of our country".

"The oil exploration activities off our coasts and at sea are of significant economic importance," she said in an address on board the naval patrol ship INS Subhadra.

"Therefore, the protection of our coast, our 'sea lines of communications' and the offshore development areas is a major pre-requisite of our nation's development."

The 77-year-old head of state, who is also supreme commander of India's armed forces, took the salute of sailors from 81 ships anchored within sight of Mumbai's landmark Gateway of India monument.

She also witnessed a ceremonial fly-past of fighter jets and helicopters.

Maritime security has been pushed up the homeland security agenda since 10 Pakistan-based Islamist militants hijacked an Indian fishing boat and forced it to sail to Mumbai in November 2008.

The gunmen slipped under the coastguard and naval radar before launching an audacious assault on landmark targets in the financial and entertainment hub, killing 166 and injuring more than 300.

Offshore oil and gas fields are becoming increasingly important as India imports about 80 percent of its crude oil and has been frantically trying to find new, domestic fuel sources as the country's economy grows.

Major companies involved in exploration include India's largest private sector firm, Reliance Industries, which earlier this year signed a $7.2 billion deal with BP to tap reserves off India's east coast.