Thimphu: Alarmed at potential links among piracy, terrorism and drugs trafficking in the Indian Ocean region, the eight-nation SAARC grouping on Friday sought urgent steps to combat the growing menace that can jeopardize maritime trade and security.

The escalation of piracy-related incidents in the high seas in the Indian Ocean has "posed an alarming challenge" to the countries in the region, SAARC Secretary General Fathimath Dhiyana Saeed said in her inaugural address at the meeting of the grouping's Interior/Home Secretaries here.

"Ample evidence suggests the potential links between piracy and terrorism, drugs trafficking, human smuggling and related crime," she said.

Saeed said South Asia depends a lot on sea-borne trade, and maritime security was a prime concern of the member countries.

The SAARC Secretary General said that since this threat was trans-national in nature, regional cooperation was the best possible method to respond to the issue.  Saeed said the 32nd session of the SAARC Council of Ministers held here in April 2010 had endorsed a proposal from the leader of the Maldivian delegation to include maritime security and piracy under the purview of Interior and Home Secretaries and Ministers.

"Accordingly, the subject has been included as one of the items on our agenda for consideration (in today's meeting)," she said.

Pirate attacks have spiked globally in the first six months of this year to 266 and a majority of these were launched by Somali pirates.

Pirate attacks on the world's seas totaled 266 in the first half of 2011, up from 196 incidents in the same period last year, according to the International Maritime Bureau's (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre.

More than 60 per cent of the attacks were carried out by Somali pirates, a majority of which were in the Arabian Sea area, it said in the report titled 'Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships'.

The Indian Navy and Coast Guard have prevented a number of attacks by the sea pirates, mostly Somalians, in the past few months and apprehended over a 100 pirates.

On March 26, the Navy had apprehended 16 sea brigands and rescued 16 crew members after battling with the Somalian pirates off the Lakshadweep Islands.

On March 13, the Indian navy foiled a pirate attack and apprehended a pirate mother ship rescuing 13 crew members and caught 61 Somali sea brigands about 600 nautical miles off the western coast in the Arabian Sea. 

Police Chiefs to contact regularly

India has mooted the idea of regular direct contact among police chiefs of SAARC nations to fight terrorism and other trans-national crime, and formation of a regional organisation on the lines of Interpol.

Home Secretary R K Singh said the common agenda of the SAARC nations was cooperation in fighting terrorism, fighting trans-national crime, checking of trafficking of women and children, illegal immigration and cooperation among police forces of the member countries.

"We have proposed exchanging the email IDs of police chiefs of all countries to get in touch with each other. It is a personal kind of communication between chiefs of police forces.... that is something on the work and we have been emphasising the necessity of getting cooperation in accordance of the terms and conditions," he said.

Singh said there was a suggestion for formation of a common police organisation call SAARCPOL – on the lines of INTERPOL -- an organisation with representatives from all member countries but due to a moratorium on setting up any new organisation by SAARC, the proposal has not been materialised.

(Agencies)