By Irfan Mohammed
INDIAN Navy has been nurturing its ties with Kingdom’s Royal Saudi Naval Forces in recent years in line with the country’s foreign policy transformation in the defense context.
Saudi Arabia and India share common concerns regarding terrorism and piracy and this has strengthened bilateral ties and defense cooperation, said a visiting top official of Indian Navy.
Rear Admiral R.B. Pandit, flag officer commanding, Western Fleet (FOCWF) in Mumbai, made this statement while speaking with media along with Indian Ambassador Ahmad Javed and Consul General Noor Rahman Shiekh on board INS Trishul, a guided missile frigate of Indian Navy docked in the Red Sea port of Jeddah Thursday evening.
Pandit revealed that India is engaged in Air, Army and Naval defense cooperation with the Kingdom.
Besides INS Trishul, two other warships INS Mumbai, ISS Aditya were in Jeddah for three days on a goodwill visit and the three ships were part of the Indian Navy’s overseas deployment to the West Coast of Africa and the Mediterranean.
He noted that current visit seeks to underscore India’s peaceful presence and solidarity with friendly countries in the region and strengthen the existing bonds of friendship between India and Saudi Arabia.
He added that significant progress has been achieved in the last two years in bilateral relations between India and Saudi Arabia in defense direction, which he termed as “game-change”.
Pandit said the Indian Navy’s diplomatic turn has been especially noteworthy in the expansion of naval cooperation with the Kingdom. In the cooperation, training is a major component. Saudi Naval cadets of entry-level officer to ranks of major are trained in India’s prestigious defense training institutions.
Rear Admiral Pandit recalled Kingdom’s participation, led by Rear Admiral Ali Mohammed Al-Zahrani with enthusiasm, in Indian Navy Marathon held in Vishakhapatnam in 2016.
In addition young officers and cadets of the Royal Saudi Navy are regularly sent to participate in sailing regatta. Most of the officers are in the young and impressionable age, and they carry back impressions of India. We are happy that the Royal Saudi Navy has been deputing people for these events regularly,” he added.
“We would like them to visit the Indian shores so we can return the hospitality by hosting them,” Pandit said while thanking the Saudi Naval forces and the Kingdom for hosting them for three days.
He added, ”The support we’ve always got from Saudi Arabia and the Royal Saudi Navy has always been valuable.”
“I would like to highlight one instance, when in 2015 Indian Naval ships were deployed in these waters at the start of the Yemen crisis to evacuate Indian personnel from Yemen. The support we got from the Royal Saudi Navy was very valuable and very instrumental to make the operations successful,” he added.
He also expressed gratitude to the Saudi leadership for allowing Indian Naval forces to enter into Yemen in 2015 during relief and evacuation of Indian citizens from war-torn country.
Pandit said India is acclaimed as a pioneer that excels in hydrographic survey, where it intends to share its rich experience with Saudi Navy in conducting hydrographic surveys to develop and enhance maritime navigation systems.
Replying to a query, the Rear Admiral said Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), a brainchild of Indian Navy, became a voluntary and cooperative initiative among 35 countries of the Indian Ocean Region where member countries share information and cooperate on maritime issues.
He said some of GCC countries are members in subgroups and core groups of IONS.
Pandit also said India is actively engaged in curbing piracy in the Gulf of Aden to maintain order and safe seas for normal and fearless maritime traffic of merchandise vessels.
“We have thwarted more than 40 attempts of piracy and escorted more than 3,500 merchant ships of all countries since 2008 when India joined in anti-piracy operations,” he said.
He cited the latest incident in which the Indian Navy foiled a piracy attempt on a bulk-carrier in the Gulf of Aden where Indian warship INS Shardda swung into action after it received a distress call.
The visiting naval ships are part of Western Fleet of Indian Navy based in Mumbai. The fleet is considered as the sword of Indian Navy from where it plays vital role in safeguarding the country’s maritime security and ensuring peace and stability in the seas.