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Chief: Navy would protect India’s maritime interests, no matter where these lie

The navy faces the spectre of terrorism after Al Qaeda operatives tried to take control a Pakistani warship in the Karachi harbour on September 6, reportedly to attack US or Indian warships. Traditionally, it has remained insulated from terrorism originating from Pakistan,

Navy chief, Admiral Robin K Dhowan, said on Wednesday “maritime terrorism” bothered him. While the army and the air force units are clear about territorial jurisdictions, naval warships operate in international waters, where any ship can approach another.

He said: “When the officer of the watch reports to the captain, ‘We have a warship from another navy on our starboard bow,’ the captain would say, ‘Wish him good morning,’ as he is in international waters and so are you. But in this changed environment, we may not wish him any longer. Instead we may have to find who he is.”

His press conference in New Delhi was on the eve of Navy Day (Thursday). This comes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama cited India’s Act East policy in Washington in September, and agreed on “the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and flight through the region, especially in the South China Sea.”

Navy chiefs have said India’s maritime interests in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) do not clash with China’s in the Western Pacific.

Dhowan said, “While you could define our primary area of interest, the flexibility and manoeuvrability of naval forces do not tether us. Wherever the maritime interests of India are there, the navy will be there to protect these.”

He emphasised the benign nature of India’s naval power, describing the country’s role in “cooperative engagement” with the IOR’s 35 navies, including China’s.

Talking of the Indian Ocean, he said “66 per cent of the world’s oil, 50 per cent of the world’s container traffic, and 33 per cent of the world’s cargo traffic transit through these waters.” For that reason, he said, “A large number of navies, 125 ships from more than 20 countries, are always present in the Indian Ocean to safeguard their maritime interests.

He described the navy’s “operational footprint” this year as extending “from Vladivostok in the east to Australia; to Hawaii further east, the Persian Gulf and the east coast of Africa.” Naval warships visited these places this year.

He cited the expanded format of the navy’s annual training exercise, called Tropex. Instead of a “two-seas” exercise in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, Tropex this year was a “blue water” exercise, running far into the Indian Ocean. “We used a large number of aircraft, including the (newly acquired Boeing multi-mission surveillance aircraft) P8I, and a nuclear submarine, all linked through the navy’s Rukmini satellite. This was unprecedented,” he said.

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