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Rajnath now Identifies ‘Pressing Challenges’ in the Western Indian Ocean.

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

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

“We prefer peace and will go to any length to maintain it, but we will not hesitate to confront any threat to our collective well-being.

The events of the last few months in the western Indian Ocean have highlighted some extremely pressing maritime challenges, ranging from attacks on merchant ships to piracy and hijacking attempts,” Singh said in Visakhapatnam.

He was speaking during the opening ceremony of the multi-nation Milan naval exercise. The 12th edition of the exercise runs from February 19 to 27 and aims to provide a forum for participating navies to share ideas for improving maritime security. Approximately 50 international navies are taking part.

In recent months, the navy has thwarted several piracy attempts in and around the Arabian Sea, as well as responded to distress calls from merchant ships hit by Iran-backed Houthi rebel missiles and drones.

Singh stated that large-scale international military exercises to improve maritime security were a relatively new 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 went on to say.

While 15 foreign warships and one maritime patrol aircraft are participating in the drills, the Indian Navy is sending around 20 warships, including aircraft carriers INS Vikrant and INS Vikramaditya, as well as 50 aircraft, including MiG-29Ks, light combat aircraft Tejas, and P8-Is.

The defence minister stated that the international community should strive for ‘positive peace’ in a democratic and rules-based world order in which countries work together to achieve shared peace and prosperity. “This concept of peace goes beyond the mere absence of direct military conflict and encompasses broader notions of security, justice, and cooperation,” he went on to say.

“India continues its proactive engagement and has maintained a consistent presence in the region to ensure the safety and security of all shipping, regardless of the flag or nationality of the crew. It is our steadfast resolve to be the first responder and the preferred security partner in the Indian Ocean region, as well as for the peace, stability, and prosperity of the larger Indo-Pacific,” said the defence minister.

The prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region,” the defence minister stated.

The exercise is divided into two phases: the sea phase (February 19-23) and the harbour phase (February 24-27). In the second phase, the participating navies will practise advanced air defence, anti-submarine, and anti-surface warfare exercises. Gunnery fires on aerial and surface targets, as well as performing manoeuvres and replenishment while underway.

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

“In the spirit of shared humanity and a commitment to a safer, more collaborative maritime future, the Indian Navy anticipates meaningful interactions, constructive engagements, and positive outcomes with our friends and partners during this edition of the exercise…” “These are not just naval exercises, but a demonstration of the collective expertise and strength we bring to the forefront 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 as Red Sea tensions rise and piracy resurfaces.  

In response to rising threats, the navy has significantly increased surveillance in the area and deployed task groups of approximately ten warships.
Singh warned those responsible for recent attacks on India-bound merchant vessels in the Arabian and Red Seas in December 2023 that they would be brought to justice soon.
“We will track down the attackers even in the depths of the ocean. “They will face severe consequences,” he stated at the time.

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