Rajnath highlights ‘pressing challenges’ in western Indian Ocean | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Rajnath highlights ‘pressing challenges’ in western Indian Ocean

ByRahul Singh
Feb 21, 2024 06:58 PM IST

Singh was speaking at the opening ceremony of the multi-nation Milan naval exercise in which 50 international navies are taking part

New Delhi: Defence minister Rajnath Singh on Wednesday said recent developments in the western Indian Ocean, where merchant vessels have faced a barrage of drone attacks and hijacking attempts, presented some “extremely pressing challenges” in the maritime domain.

Defence minister, Rajnath Singh (HT photo/sourced)
Defence minister, Rajnath Singh (HT photo/sourced)

“We are alive to the dangers lurking in shadows.”

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“We prefer peace, and will do the utmost for its sake, but we will not shrink from countering any threat that undermines our collective well-being. Events of the past few months in the western Indian Ocean have brought to fore some extremely pressing challenges in the maritime domain, ranging from attacks on merchant shipping to piracy and hijacking attempts,” Singh said in Visakhapatnam.

He was speaking at the opening ceremony of the multi-nation Milan naval exercise. The 12th edition of the exercise is being held from February 19 to 27 and aims to provide a platform to the participating navies to share ideas to strengthen maritime security. Around 50 international navies are taking part.

The navy has thwarted several piracy attempts in and around Arabian Sea in the last few months and responded to distress calls made by merchant ships hit by missiles and drones launched by Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

Also Read: Navy adding capability to reinforce India as superpower in Indo-Pacific: Rajnath

Singh said large-scale international military exercises to boost maritime security were a relatively recent phenomenon. “It would have been unimaginable in the past, around 50-60 years ago, for navies from over 50 nations to convene in one location for purposes other than conflict,” he said.

While 15 foreign warships and one maritime patrol aircraft are taking part in the drills, the Indian Navy’s participation includes around 20 warships, including aircraft carriers INS Vikrant and INS Vikramaditya, and around 50 aircraft including MiG-29Ks, light combat aircraft Tejas and P8-Is.

The international community should aspire for ‘positive peace’ in a democratic and rules-based world order where countries collaborate with each other for shared peace and prosperity, the defence minister said. “This concept of peace goes beyond the mere absence of direct military conflict and encompasses broader notions of security, justice, and cooperation,” he said.

“India continues its proactive engagement and has been maintaining a sustained presence in the region to ensure safety and security of all shipping, irrespective of the flag on the ship and the nationality of the crew. It is our steadfast resolve to be the first responder and the preferred security partner in the Indian Ocean region, and for the peace, stability, and prosperity of the wider Indo-Pacific,” the defence minister said.

He said ‘negative peace’ often stemmed from dominance or hegemony, where one power imposed its will on others.

The exercise is being conducted in two phases: sea phase (February 19-23) and harbour phase (Feb 24-27). In the second phase, the participating navies will conduct advanced air defence, anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare drills. Gunnery shoots on aerial and surface targets, a series of manoeuvres and underway replenishment would also be conducted.

From five Indian Ocean region navies in 1995 to 50 navies across the Indo-Pacific this year, Milan reflects the growing stature and increasing importance of such collective and cooperative endeavours in the maritime domain, navy chief Admiral R Hari Kumar said.

“In the spirit of this shared humanity and a commitment to a safer, more collaborative maritime future, the Indian Navy looks forward to meaningful interactions, constructive engagements and positive outcomes with our friends and partners during this edition of the exercise... These are not merely naval exercises, but a testament to the collective expertise and strength we bring to the fore as maritime nations,” Kumar said in his opening remarks.

The challenges in the distant seas include China’s carefully calculated power play for influence, defending the rules-based international order, and the Arabian Sea emerging as a new front with Red Sea tensions escalating and the resurgence of piracy. The navy has stepped up surveillance in the area substantially and deployed task groups consisting of around 10 warships in the face of rising threats.

In December 2023, Singh warned those behind the recent attacks on India-bound merchant vessels in the Arabian sea and the Red Sea, saying the perpetrators would be brought to justice soon.

“We will hunt down the attackers even from the depths of the ocean. Strict action will be taken against them,” he had then said.

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