Proposed Coast Guard Belongs in Military Hands: Deputy Defense Minister

By Htet Naing Zaw 14 March 2019

NAYPYITAW—The Myanmar military is taking steps to establish the proposed coast guard as a unit of the Defense Ministry, despite the stated goal of the President’s Office that the force will be under its control.
Deputy Defense Minister General Myint Nwe told the Lower House of Parliament on Wednesday that the ministry plans to seek Parliament’s approval to form the coast guard under the command of the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw).

The deputy minister revealed the plan in response to a question from lawmaker Daw Aye Mya Mya Myo, who asked about the government’s maritime security plans.

“We will be able to better protect Myanmar’s waters by exchanging information among concerned organizations and making decisions in real time,” the general said.

An integrated command center (ICC) will be formed and led by the Myanmar Navy. The center will consist of officials from the Maritime Police Force, Customs Department, Immigration Department, Department of Marine Administration, Myanmar Port Authority, Fisheries Department and Directorate of Water Resources and Improvement of River Systems, among others.

The Ministry of Transport and Communications held a meeting on establishing a coast guard in December. Minister U Thant Sin Maung told the media that the President’s Office wished to place the new force under its control.

The coast guard is intended to protect national security and fight drugs and arms smuggling, as well as human trafficking, the minister told reporters.

Citing Article 338 of the 2008 Constitution, which says that all armed forces in the Union shall be under the command of the Defense Services chief, Gen. Myint Nwe said the Defense Ministry would take charge of the coast guard.

“The most important thing is to have strong coordination between departments, no matter which ministry controls the coast guard,” lawmaker Daw Aye Mya Mya Myo told reporters.

As an example of the current lax state of maritime security, she said local authorities only found out about a boat carrying some 100 Muslim Rohingya in Thante village, Yangon’s Kyauktan Township, after locals made a report. It is a cause for concern that neither the Maritime Police nor troops stationed in four of the 10 coastal villages in the area detected the vessel, Daw Aye Mya Mya Myo said.

The Myanmar Navy has installed radar in strategic positions along coast, but more installations are needed if the entire coastline is to be covered, said Gen. Myint Nwe. He added that the Navy has no vessel-monitoring system.

“The Navy can distinguish whether a vessel of 300 tons or more is friend or foe using the coastal radar, but for smaller vessels, it can’t due to the lack of a vessel-monitoring system,” he said.

According to the Defense Ministry, Myanmar’s territorial waters cover 14,491 sq. miles, and its coastline is a little over 1,260 miles long.

The coast guard will be tasked with promoting the rule of law in Myanmar’s waters, ensuring the security of maritime vessels and ports, investigating maritime accidents, protecting marine resources including the fishery industry, promoting sea environmental conservation, and preventing and counteracting water pollution, the general said.

It will also be responsible for the security of cruise ships along the coastline and island resorts, and for search-and-rescue operations—a range of responsibilities currently assumed by the Myanmar Navy.

Total seizures of smuggled fish, drug, teak, cattle and oil were worth 220 billion kyats from 2011 to 2018; the Navy also took action against 3,677 local and 1,598 foreign smugglers and human traffickers.