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'Navy is not headmaster of Indian Ocean region'

February 05, 2010 16:36 IST

With the US wanting India to have a greater security role in the Indian Ocean Region as a naval force, Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma on Friday said his force had no intention of becoming the "headmaster" of the region.

He, however, wanted to initiate the process for cooperative policing of the high seas against threats like piracy.

"We talk about coming together in a constructive manner. That has been our (India's) theme always. India becoming the headmaster; that is never the intention. There are similar threats like piracy that affect all nations equally like the piracy off the Somalia coast... to that extent, yes," Verma told media persons in Port Blair when asked to comment on the US suggestion in this regard last week.

On the 1,000-ship navy concept floated by the US in recent years, the Navy chief said the concept was not referred to in such terms any more, but about navies coming together in areas of convergence that affect all.

"Piracy is perhaps the most prominent example, irrespective of relations that may be existing among countries, we all coming together to find ways and means to combat this menace," he said.

Asked about the Indo-US Malabar series of exercises scheduled for April this year, Verma said the US was to bring a nuclear submarine, apart from a couple of maritime patrol aircraft and four frigates and destroyers to the bilateral exercise.

Verma said a US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was supposed to join the exercise in the Arabian Sea, but since it was not stationed in the area, it had to be left out.

Indian Navy would have a frigate, a destroyer and a submarine to participate in the exercise. In 2007, when Singapore, Japan and Australia had joined India and the US for Malabar in the Bay of Bengal, the Left parties had held protests against the multilateral exercise, saying it was a military grouping against China.

Asked if Malabar could go multilateral again, Verma said the policy was to hold only bilateral exercise.

On the security of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Verma said he had no doubt over the ability of the armed forces in securing the sovereignty of the island territories and that it should not be compared to Maldives, which was a nation with little maritime military capabilities.

"The force levels, be it the Navy, Army or the Air Force... we have enough to ensure the security of the islands. The Army battalions, the IAF aircraft and the naval ships stationed here keep patrolling the coast line to ensure its safety," he said.

On strengthening of coastal security after 26/11 Mumbai attacks, he said priority was to ensure coordination among all maritime agencies in the country and it has been achieved.

"That apart, educating fishermen, who can be our eyes and ears, is of top priority. We keep organising awareness programmes in coastal villages and it has borne results, as it had in Kerala, when fishermen noticed movement of a suspicious vessel and tipped off the navy," he said.

N C Bipindra in Port Blair
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