Resources in the region and its importance

The Indian Ocean matters today, more than ever. The Indian Ocean basin is of particular importance for India, India is geographically located at the Ocean’s centre, and has over 7,500 kilometers of coastline and it is the region’s most populous country and geopolitical keystone.


International trade

  • It enjoys a privileged location at the crossroads of global trade, connecting the major engines of the international economy in the Northern Atlantic and Asia-Pacific.
  • This represents an almost four-fold increase in the volume of commercial shipping since 1970.
  • Prime Minister declared that, “The Indian Ocean Region is at the top of our policy priorities.” Today, 95 per cent of India’s trade by volume and 68 per cent of trade by value come via the Indian Ocean.

Nearly 80 per cent of India’s crude oil requirement—is imported by sea via the Indian Ocean.


  • The Ocean has long been a key determining factor of India’s cultural footprint, with people, religion, goods, and customs spreading from India to Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia and vice-versa.
  • Project Mausam is a cultural and economic project by the Indian Ministry of Culture and Archaeological Survey of India with the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts which aims to connect countries on the Indian Ocean.

Densely Populated

  • The Ocean’s vast drainage basin is home to some two billion people. This creates opportunities, especially given the high rates of economic growth around the Indian Ocean rim.


Source of fishing and mineral resources

  • The Indian Ocean is rich in natural resources. Forty per cent of the world’s offshore oil production takes place in the Indian Ocean basin.
  • Fishing in the Indian Ocean now accounts for almost 15 per cent of the world’s total and has increased some 13-fold between 1950 and 2010 to 11.5 million tonnes.
  • Fisheries and aquaculture industries are also a major source of exports.


Mineral resources

  • nodules containing nickel, cobalt, and iron, and massive sulphide deposits of manganese, copper, iron, zinc, silver, and gold present in sizeable quantities on the sea bed.
  • Indian Ocean coastal sediments is important sources of titanium, zirconium, tin, zinc, and copper.
  • Rare earth elements are present, even if their extraction is not always commercially feasible.
  • Indian Ocean economies accounted for 35.5% of global iron production and 17.8% of world gold production in 2017

Energy resources:

  • The main energy resources present in Indian Ocean are petroleum and gas hydrates. Petroleum products mainly include the oil produced from offshore regions. Gas hydrates are unusually compact chemical structures made of water and natural gas.
  • The Indian Ocean holds 16.8% of the world’s proven oil reserves and 27.9% of proven natural gas reserves.

Fishery Resource

  • The region was also responsible for 28% of global fish capture in 2016, and there has been a continuous increase in fish capture in the region since the 1950s.
  • This has created a successful basis for export industries in a number of countries. For example, Indonesia and India accounted for around 4.5% of global frozen fish exports in 2017.


Ensuring the sustainable exploitation of fishing and mineral resources.

  • The IORCs are faced with the common pressing challenges of increasing urbanisation, industrialization and migration, resulting in over-exploitation of natural marine resources.
  • Multi-dimensional challenges from climate change impacts such as sea-level rise, ocean acidification, and extreme weather events.
  • Climate change impact like erosion and inundation could cause loss of coastal habitats such as mangroves, thereby affecting the reproduction of species.
  • Acidification and rise in sea temperature destroys the coral reefs that are critical to various sea species.

Managing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations.

  • As the population of the region is projected to increase significantly in the coming decades, its impact on food security and economy from marine resources would become more substantial.
  • The densely populated littoral is also vulnerable to natural or environmental disasters. ex., the 2004 tsunami that killed 228,000 people.

Securing the free passage of trade and energy.

  • There is a strong security dimension to India’s engagement with the Indian Ocean, beyond traditional naval considerations. ex., One of the worst terrorist attacks – the 2008 assault on Mumbai in which 164 people were killed—was perpetrated by terrorists arriving by sea.
  • Smuggling, illegal fishing, and human trafficking are all also major concerns.
  • The lack of regional maritime security architecture has prompted major powers to compete for control over these resources and sea-lanes.
  • The further escalation of such geopolitical tensions, as seen in the South China Sea, would threaten the openness of the region’s sea routes, which in turn may disrupt trade and adversely affect energy dependent nations like Sri Lanka.

Adequacy of institutions for addressing the region’s many challenges.

  • Lack of governance mechanism, poor data and resources suggests that there are very few institutions, finance and technical resources available to deal with the challenges. There is no single overarching organisation that covers all IORC in its membership.
  • Most of the Indian Ocean countries have formulated their own fisheries regulations; they lack proper standards, guidelines, coherent regional arrangement and enforcement mechanisms in the Indian Ocean owing to limited data and capacity constraints.
  • Deep sea exploration to extract minerals requires further investments in remotely operated vehicles and processing facilities.


  • India received exclusive rights to explore the Central Indian Ocean and has since explored four million square miles and established two mining sites.
  • Geological Survey of India acquired a deep sea exploration ship Samudra Ratnakar from South Korea, boosting its survey capabilities.
  • In 2014, the International Seabed Authority issued licenses for the Indian Ocean ridge, opening up new opportunities for deep seabed mining.
  • This region is estimated to have massive reserves of manganese, as well as cobalt, nickel, and copper, all of which are scarce on Indian soil.


  • India has also been playing a more active role in humanitarian and disaster relief operations. These have often focused on rescuing citizens of India from conflict zones, although India has helped citizens of many other countries in the process. A recent example in the Indian Ocean region is Operation Raahat in Yemen.
  • Beginning in 2005, pirates operating mostly from Somalia began to hijack commercial ships with alarming regularity, with such incidents peaking in 2010. Piracy has declined noticeably in the Indian Ocean since 2013, due in part to the efforts of countries like India, it could once again prove a threat to Indian commerce.
  • India’s objectives, as outlined by Indian Prime Minister Modi in 2015 under the banner of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region). “Our goal, is to seek a climate of trust and transparency; respect for international maritime rules and norms by all countries; sensitivity to each other`s interests; peaceful resolution of maritime issues; and increase in maritime cooperation.”


  • In Mauritius Declaration on Blue Economy of September 2015, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) recognized the need for urgent action towards improved governance structures to preserve the ocean’s resources for future generations.
  • It is imperative, to increase cooperation towards conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources as outlined in the goal 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
  • Marine Renewable Energy, Offshore wind energy production, wave energy production, tidal energy production
  • Marine Tourism , sailing at sea, boating at sea, surfing, sail boarding, bird watching in coastal areas and islands
The Law of the Seas
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is an international treaty which was adopted and signed in 1982. The Convention has become the legal framework for global marine and maritime activities, and is known as the ‘Constitution of the Seas.’

Since its adoption, 167 states have joined the treaty, out of which 25 are Indian Ocean states. Only three—Cambodia, Iran and the UAE—are not party to the treaty.

The Convention aims to delineate all ocean space into different maritime zones and sets forth the rights and duties of States in their activities within each of those maritime zones.

It divides the ocean into six different zones namely;

  • Internal waters
  • Contiguous Zone
  • Territorial Sea
  • Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)
  • High Seas.

The main institutions established by the Convention include

  • The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea
  • The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf; and
  • The International Seabed Authority.

As this Convention forms the core of ocean governance, Indian littoral states and maritime users can use this as a foundation for ensuring freedom of navigation and stability in the Indian Ocean.