Thirteen navies, from India to Australia, gathered in Port Blair on Friday to participate in the largest regional exercise that underlines India's growing reputation as a blue-water maritime power even as Indian Navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma insisted that the grouping was not a “security bloc” aimed at any one, particularly China.
"Some nations might have maritime boundary claims with various countries. It is more of a coming together not as security bloc but a forum where we can bring security forces together and fight natural and man-made disasters," Verma told reporters here.
The navies of Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam are taking part in the exercise.
The exercise began with an international seminar on Navies in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief.
According to Verma, the Indian Navy's initiative to bring together different countries does not mean India wants to create hegemony in the region.
“We talk about coming together. India becoming a headmaster is not what we want. There are similar threats which affect every nation. Navies have been able to get rid of the scourge of piracy in the region to a great extent,” Verma added.
However, the navy chief, without naming China, reiterated that the navy was monitoring the increased activities of countries in the Indian Ocean region.
“We take into account what is happening in our region. We are certainly building conventional capability to counter it. But multilateral exercises like this are more of coming together in terms of disaster relief,” Verma added.
Since its inception in 1995 with four countries participating in it, this 7th edition of the biennial Milan exercise is the largest of the series. The scope has expanded from regional navies to a gathering of Asian-Pacific countries.
"The participation shows the tremendous credibility and standing the exercise has come to command in the region," Verma said in his opening address at the seminar. "The armed forces will be the first one to be deployed to the scene of disaster.
"No country will be able to deal with humanitarian crisis single handedly, especially in initial stages."
Of the 12, ships from nine countries are participating while the remaining are represented by their delegations.