India plans more frequent joint exercises with US Navy

April 9th, 2008 - 10:56 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Arun Kumar
Washington, April 9 (IANS) As a major force for stability in the Indian Ocean, India will continue regular joint exercises with the US and other major navies with increasing frequency for enhancing maritime security, says the Indian ambassador to the US. “As a responsible maritime power, India is a major force for stability in the Indian Ocean,” ambassador Ronen Sen said at the opening session of a workshop on “The Indian Ocean Region Today” at the US National Defence University here Tuesday.

“We have regular joint exercises with almost all major navies in the Indian Ocean, including the US Navy,” he said. “These exercises will continue, with increasing frequency, with the objective of achieving inter-operability and enhancing maritime security.”

“India remains committed to an Indian Ocean region that is stable and peaceful,” said Sen, citing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s inaugural address at the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium hosted by the Indian Navy last February in New Delhi.

Manmohan Singh had said: “We would like to cooperate with all like-minded countries so as to ensure the freedom of the seas for all nations, and to deepen trade and economic linkages between Indian Ocean Rim countries.”

Expressing serious concern about the maritime challenges posed by the increase in piracy, terrorism, trafficking of narcotics, arms, and also human beings, Sen said: “India has unfortunately faced these threats, much before their global nature was fully recognised.”

The bomb blasts, which claimed hundreds of lives in Mumbai in 1993 were caused by explosives smuggled by sea, he said, recalling that the ship, Alondra Rainbows, a hijacked Japanese owned and Panama registered ship, was captured, after a tense stand-off, by the Indian Navy in 1999.

Noting that the Indian Ocean accounts for around 70 percent of the world’s natural disasters, the envoy said India remained willing to offer training and capacity building in prediction, modelling and early forecasting of such natural disasters.

The Indian and the US navies had cooperated closely in relief operations after the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in end-December 2004, together with those of Japan and, to some extent, Australia, he recalled. In July 2005, an India-US Disaster Response Initiative was announced.

“India has vital stakes in stability and security in the Indian Ocean,” Sen said, noting the country is located at the natural junction of important sea-lanes of communications, and strategic choke points, such as the Straits of Malacca and the Straits of Hormuz.

The maritime area around India is among the busiest in the world, with over 100,000 ships crossing it every year. Currently, 90 percent of India’s trade, by volume, and about 75 percent, by value, move by ship, he said.

By 2025, India is poised to become the third largest global importer of oil. Much of this will be by sea. India is the third largest fish producing country in the world. However, its annual catch is only about 8.5 million tons, against a potential of at least 40 million tons a year.

Across the Arabian Sea are states, which are vitally important sources of India’s energy needs, apart from being home to nearly 4.5 million Indian expatriates, Sen said. To its north, India is separated from Central Asia by less than 40 miles. The Indian Ocean is a natural outlet to the world for energy rich Central Asia.

Across the Bay of Bengal are India’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) neighbours, he said.

“We have long been a Dialogue Partner of Asean, and a Summit Partner since 2002. We have been actively engaged in the Asean Regional Forum (ARF), which is the only political and security dialogue forum in the region,” Sen said.

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