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Sunday, Sep 22, 2019

Harbours at risk: Indian Navy to be without minesweepers for at least 3 years

The mine countermeasure vessels MCMVs are slated for de-induction by 2016-2018.

india Updated: Mar 10, 2017 19:10 IST

Rahul Singh, Hindustan Times
Navies use minesweepers to keep sea lanes mine-free, secure major harbours and destroy minefields near enemy shores while undertaking offensive action.
Navies use minesweepers to keep sea lanes mine-free, secure major harbours and destroy minefields near enemy shores while undertaking offensive action.(AFP Photo/ Representative image)

India will not have the capability to scour its harbours for potential mines and explosives for at least three years, making them highly vulnerable to enemy action.

The navy will be without a minesweeper till 2021, with the existing fleet of six Soviet-origin vessels on its way to be decommissioned by next year, reveals a parliamentary report on the alarming decline in naval force levels. Navies use minesweepers to secure harbours by locating and destroying mines.

In its latest report tabled in Parliament, the standing committee on defence asked the government to make “sincere and concerted efforts” to equip the navy with the critical capability. The panel is headed by BC Khanduri, a BJP MP who retired as a major general.

“If an enemy submarine mines shallow waters outside a key Indian harbour, we will come to know of it only when a ship is blown up. We are Ram bharose (at God’s mercy),” said a navy officer.

India could sign a Rs 32,640-crore deal with a South Korean shipyard for building 12 mine counter-measure vessels (MCMVs) in the country by March 31, but the first of those is likely to be delivered only in 2021. Any delay in hammering out the deal could further upset the navy’s calculations, said another officer. He said securing India’s 12 major harbours require at least 24 minesweepers.

“The MCMVs are slated for de-induction by 2016-2018…2016 has already passed and moreover, building the MCMVs will also take considerable time. The Committee feels that the entire process of procurement of MCMVs will be delayed inordinately,” the report said.

The new MCMVs will be built at Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL) in collaboration with Busan-based Kangnam Corporation under the Make in India initiative. The deal was supposed to be closed last year but discussions on technology transfer caused delays.

The construction of the first vessel is expected to begin in April 2018, and deliveries likely to be completed between 2021 and 2026.

“Not having minesweeping capabilities can have deadly consequences,” said Sudarshan Shrikhande, a retired rear admiral. “Even modified fishing trawlers can be used for laying mines, multiplying the threat at the sub-conventional level.”

So how has navy landed into this mess?

The MCMV tender for eight vessels was floated nearly a decade ago, with Kangnam emerging as the frontrunner for the order. However, the government scrapped the tender in 2014 amid allegations that the Korean firm had hired middlemen to swing things in its favour.

The Centre finally nominated GSL in February 2015 to build minesweepers in partnership with a foreign shipyard. It was later clarified that the previous tender was scrapped due to “procedural issues” and Kangnam could compete again as it was not on the government’s blacklist.

First Published: Mar 10, 2017 13:18 IST