The Indian Coast Guard has been given powers under the Coast Guard Act to board, search any vessel and arrest people for offences within the maritime zone of the country, Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar said on Thursday.
A Coast Guard official said earlier the maritime security agency did not have the power to board any vessel passing through India's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
"Empowering Indian Coast Guard and enhancing coastal security. MoD issues notification enabling CG to Visit, Board, Search and Seize suspicious vessels within India's EEZ and its continental shelf @IndianCoastGuard," Mr Kumar tweeted.
The notification states that under the Coast Guard Act, 1978, the central government authorises "every member of the Coast Guard" to "visit, board, search and seize vessel, or arrest any person, or seize any artificial island or any floating or moored object or any underwater object including any maritime property involved or suspected to be used in the commission of any offence..."
Before this notification, the Coast Guard used provisions of the Customs Act, and the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act and other relevant acts to board and seize vessels in the EEZ.
However, it did not have the necessary legal backing and many cases would fall flat in the court, officials said.
There was also a legal loophole using which the vessel companies could sue the Coast Guard for detaining ships without any authorisation.
Empowering Indian Coast Guard and enhancing Coastal security. MoD issues notification enabling CG to "Visit, Board" Search and Seize" suspicious vessels within India's EEZ and its continental shelf @IndiaCoastGuardpic.twitter.com/1jFZDl1Qmz— Ajay Kumar (@drajaykumar_ias) December 4, 2019
Another senior Coast Guard official explained that earlier, its officials would seize drugs, detain offenders and hand them over to agencies like the local police, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and the Narcotics Control Bureau. The vessels would be handed over to the port authorities.
The official added that since 2009, the maritime security force has been seeking more powers under the Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and Other Maritime Zones Act, 1976 so that they could board and search suspicious vessels.