From the time humans stepped into water with the benefit of the buoyancy of a hollowed-out log, seafaring has always been a saga of respect for skill and human spirit. In the Indian Ocean, littoral communities along the coast have been traversing the length and breadth of the oceanic space for the past few millennia. On Tuesday, at the opening day of the maiden National Maritime Heritage Conclave, discussions on coastal communities recognised their influence along the coast and across the seas. Day 2 will reflect the elements of gender in Indian Maritime History and Trans-oceanic Connectivity. It is apt to examine what is needed for one to dare to venture to the sea. A seafarer requires a balance of specialised skill set, which includes navigation, maritime law, meteorology, etc.
A careful examination of history reveals accounts of women involved in seafaring activity. Maritime women of the Medieval Era were feisty and adept in aptitude across a broad spectrum from administration to military. In the medieval era period, one such heroic figure was Rani Abbakka, a warrior queen who fought against the Portuguese. Her story stands out as an excellent example of administration and skilled military tactics. Yet the stigma of Samudrolanghan slowed maritime activities and a resulting fear of sea halted flourishing Maritime activities. These were largely confined to coastal communities.
In more recent times, the involvement of women in the Maritime Sector has gained momentum over the past few years. Common perception is that prior to 1988 there were limited opportunities for women in the Maritime Industry. The annals of the Royal Indian Navy, especially during World War II narrate the saga of Women’s Royal Indian Naval Service. It was established to support the war efforts even if not on the ships. After the start of a global programme for integration of Women in the Maritime sector established by International Maritime Organization (IMO) many opportunities arose for women in the Maritime domain. After 1992 the Indian Navy permitted women to join as Short Service Commissioned Officers in specific branches.
Recent news of Indian Navy women officers joining combat duties from the aviation cadre on Navy warships drew significant attention and inspiration. It is not a singular moment of engagement but a continuing evolution of opportunities for recognising skill over gender. It requires great strength and skill to brave the sea and even greater resilience to sustain its challenges. Day 2 of the ongoing National Maritime Heritage Conclave will bring first-hand experiences from our panel of Maritime women. In the skills for seafaring, sea does not recognise gender group or oceanic genealogy. Specifically, the role of women in Indian Maritime History is a prominent unsung frame in the annals of history
The third session progresses into another unsung frame of the Maritime Domain which is Trans-Maritime Connectivity across IOR. The landmass of India being largely surrounded by the water bodies makes the ocean a medium of connectivity to the world. This Maritime connectivity largely transgresses into India’s unsung Maritime History. India being a landlocked country the sea blindness of Indians comes as a shock. A detailed study of our country’s maritime history reveals a strong oceanic connect dating far back to the Indus Valley Civilisation, with Lothal being one of the oldest port cities of the world and Rig Veda having one of the earliest literary references to maritime activities of the country.
Oceans have played an important part in Indian philosophy and have been associated with a variety of celebrations and rituals across ages. These maritime practices throw light on how India’s seasonal festivals and associated rituals have a clear connection between the maritime voyages and the climatological time frames.
India has witnessed cultural and traditional exchange, trade and commerce through the oceans for a long period of time. Contrary to popular belief, the system of a maritime passage through the Indian Ocean evolved out of a gradual integration of trading port towns along the coastlines of Africa, Arabia, India, South East Asia, China and Europe! The Indian Ocean Region experienced extensive maritime trade and at its peak rivalled the Silk Route.
Ships traversing the Ocean carried valuable merchandise, skills, knowledge, civilisation, culture, religions ideas inventions, artistic style, philosophies, and social customs from one end to another. This maritime web of commerce and cultural exchange operated on seasonal monsoon winds. Oceanic activity in the region encouraged by the unique feature of monsoons allowed the countries involved to have an active participation in maritime trade, thus creating a long history of maritime activities covering a period of about five millennia. Maritime activities of the past and the present have led to a cultural migration and created a global commerce that has influenced the face of Indian history and culture. This lineage of maritime heritage and history is indeed a testimony of our strong connections and relationship with the sea.
India’s strategic position in the Indian Ocean Region has ensured that we have a list of maritime stories and heroes that have left an impressive wake. We can say that the world that we see today is a legacy of our Maritime excursions and its history. India has a very rich maritime history and we are just beginning to explore it. There was a golden age of Indian seafaring and a major part of it remains unknown or unexplored creating an opportunity for us at Maritime History Society to dive deeper.
Staying true to the mission of ‘awakening maritime consciousness’, Maritime History Society holds an Annual Maritime History Seminar each year on a selected Maritime Theme. This year’s 42nd edition which is envisaged as a National Maritime Heritage Conclave (NMHC) is being organised in collaboration with Gujarat Maritime University, Gandhinagar, All India Marine Pilot’s Association and The Daily Guardian. This two-day conclave honours the theme “Unsung Frames in Indian Maritime History’’. Even in the emerging season of a maritime resurgence, awareness of our seafaring past and affinity for traversing the oceans is not a common pull for the populace. In that context the conclave is showcasing frames of reference that have largely suffered neglect in scholastic enquiry and narrations.
Day 1 of the conclave had explored the influence and importance of coastal communities and ended on a high note of announcement of the winners of the JG Nadkarni Memorial Essay Competition and release of a special musical tribute to the Indian Malams (boatmen); today’s session reflects upon the synergy of skills in the seafaring world. The proceeding gave a glimpse of the diverse spectrum of segments that make up the maritime dimension. There is literally a rare sector of academics that fails to have a maritime connect. It is a recognition of the geographical, climatological and cultural spread of the oceanic medium in addition to many more frames of reference and context. Celebration of the lesserknown narratives and sections of India’s maritime world is aimed to promote sea mindedness, incite a curiosity, and create awareness about India’s maritime heritage. Join the conclave by visiting https://mhsindia. zohobackstage.in/NationalMaritimeHeritageConclave2020. For more information visit our website www.mhsindia.org. And for updates of the other events follow our social media. The sea is a vast medium of opportunities and collaborations. Together we can achieve a resurgence of interest, scholarship and attention towards the Maritime Heritage of India. Maritime History Society, determined to evolve into an international institution of excellence in the maritime dimension invites your interest, involvement and integration into its journey forward. Do join us to tend to the sails, hold the sheets and surge ahead in the voyage of Heritage Awakening our Maritime Consciousness.
Ashwini Nawathe is Archives & Collections Associate, and Saba Purkar is Academic Assistant, both at MHS.
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Defence Ministers of India and Vietnam hold talks to strengthen defence relations
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Minister of National Defence of Socialist Republic of Vietnam General Ngo Xuan Lich held bilateral talks via video-conferencing, on Thursday. During the talks, both the ministers reaffirmed the strong India-Vietnam defence cooperation which is a key pillar of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between the two countries. They discussed various ongoing projects and the future trajectory of bilateral defence engagements. The Defence Ministers expressed satisfaction that despite the Covid-19 situation defence exchanges between both Armed Forces have maintained a positive momentum. Both the Ministers discussed collaboration in defence industry capability building, training and cooperation in UN peacekeeping operations.
In a further step towards deeper bilateral cooperation, both sides signed an Implementing Arrangement for cooperation in the field of Hydrography between National Hydrographic Office, India and Vietnam Hydrographic Office in the presence of the two Ministers. The Arrangement will enable sharing of Hydrographic data and assist in production of navigational charts by both sides. Raksha Mantri underlined Prime Minister’s vision of Aatmanirbhar Bharat for enhancing self-reliance including defence industries. He outlined that a strong and self-reliant India shall positively contribute to capacity building of friendly partner countries like Vietnam. He urged for closer defence industry cooperation between India and Vietnam by concluding an institutionalised framework Agreement in the near future. Raksha Mantri appreciated Vietnam’s innovative and successful leadership of defence-related events in ASEAN during its presidency of ASEAN despite the COVID-19 pandemic situation.
Vietnamese Defence Minister thanked the Raksha Mantri for the assistance by Indian Armed Forces in capacity building of Vietnamese Defence Forces especially in the field of Human Resource development. Rajnath Singh conveyed India’s willingness to enhance the scope and level of training for all three services of Vietnam Defence forces in Indian Defence Institutes. Vietnamese Defence Minister also invited the Singh for ADMM Plus meeting being hosted by Vietnam on 10 December 2020, through virtual mode.
PAKISTAN: FOREVER THE BRIDESMAID, NEVER THE BRIDE?
Pakistan would do well to continuously re-evaluate its status in the Chinese calculus and make efforts to reduce potential China-Iran bonhomie.
China and Iran are ostensibly moving towards what is being touted as a “comprehensive partnership”, if a leaked agreement between the two countries is to be believed. This agreement envisages potential Chinese investments of up to $400 billion in Iran. Analysts around the world, including in Pakistan, have already dedicated copious amounts of ink on assessing what impact this agreement would have on various stakeholders. What is confounding is the evident optimism, bordering on gullibility, among some self-professed ‘experts’ of the so-called Pakistani intelligentsia. One would think that history has taught Pakistan a lesson about being circumspect when examining the effects of such international moves on their security and well-being. Alas, they seem to suffer an affliction for self-congratulatory assessments in all facets of life, with breathless acolytes of political affiliations providing ‘expert analyses’ on television about issues from national security to the mundane.
Oft repeated is the maxim that if one does not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. For instance, the disdain with which one-time best friend USA treats Pakistan today is evident from frequent foreign policy utterances by the highest levels of US Government. As recently as 22 September, William Todd, President Trump’s nominee as US Ambassador to Pakistan informed the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “Pakistan must take sustained and irreversible action against terrorism”. Pakistanis never miss an opportunity to highlight that the US professes deep friendship with them when it is expedient and, subsequently drops them like a hot potato. If Pakistani policy makers do not take lessons from their own history, their relationship with China could go down the same road. Chinese investment in CPEC is estimated to be anywhere between $46 billion to $70 billion. This prima facie appears to be a huge amount, and should portend extensive development in Pakistan. It should however also be viewed as an additional tactic to glue Pakistan with iron brother, China. However, Pakistan was recently shocked when a leaked agreement indicated that Chinese investment in Iran under the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ (SREB) is in the range of $400 billion, nearly six-fold of the prospective investment in Pakistan. The agreement includes development of the Jask Port in Iran, which is a mere few hundred kilometres from Gwadar. There is also indication of investment in the electricity sector in Iran, to aid it in eventually exporting electricity across the region. What then of Pakistan’s vision of self-sufficiency in power generation through the Thar Coal Project under CPEC? What then of Gwadar becoming a major hub of shipping in the region? What of the insurgents operating with impunity against Pakistan from across the border in Iran?
Optimists such as Dr Muhammad Tayyab Safdar of the University of Virginia tend to see positive outcomes for Pakistan in the China-Iran agreement. He speaks of Pakistan becoming the conduit for Chinese trade and energy in his elucidation for the Diplomat. He also mentions some issues highlighted in this article, but sheds a positive light on them, without specifics as to how the agreement will aid in Pakistan’s power generation, or how Jask will foment growth for Gwadar? Is Pakistan, then, to be a mere conduit or a major partner?
The strategic community in Pakistan is presently finding its feet in the rapidly evolving geo-strategic paradigm, post pandemic. As the world realigns, Pakistan is likely be caught flat-footed. Recent strained relations with Saudi Arabia, traditionally, one of its greatest supporters, followed by a Chinese drift towards Iran could be a precursor to Pakistan’s strategic inconsequentiality in regional dynamics. The Abraham Accords have also isolated Pakistan which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. Coupled with their Turkish-leanings, it is very likely that Pakistan will soon be distanced by UAE and other Middle East nations. Saudi Arabia’s new 20 Riyal banknote issued in October this year has removed Gilgit-Baltistan from Pakistan’s map, a move clearly intended to humiliate Pakistan on the world stage, and particularly in the OIC.
Pakistan would do well to continuously re-evaluate its status in the Chinese calculus and make efforts to reduce potential China-Iran bonhomie, particularly if it comes at their expense. Pakistan’s response would be based on the axiom: ‘There are no permanent friends or enemies—only permanent interests’. Pakistan’s interests, for now, lie in making potential benefits of the CPEC more lucrative to China than the SREB. Else, Pakistan runs the risk of being used… yet again. Maybe it is time for Pakistan to extricate itself from its fool’s paradise and engage in some actual realpolitik, lest it give credence to the adage of forever being a bridesmaid, never the bride.
Days after successful Malabar 2020, three back-to-back exercises by Indian Navy
While the Indian Navy was hosting the most talked about exercise of the maritime domain Malabar 2020 with the Navies of America, Japan and Australia, the multiple ships of the Indian Navy were already preparing to participate in at least three more exercises, in a week.
EXERCISE SIMBEX-20 IN ANDAMAN SEA
Indian Navy (IN) hosted the 27th edition of India-Singapore Bilateral Maritime Exercise SIMBEX-20 from 23 to 25 November 2020 in Andaman Sea. The SIMBEX series of exercises between IN and Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), being conducted annually since 1994, are aimed at enhancing mutual inter-operability and imbibing best practices from each other. The scope and complexity of these exercises has increased steadily over the past two decades to include advanced naval drills covering a wide spectrum of maritime operations. The 2020 edition of SIMBEX witnessed participation by Indian Navy ships including destroyer Rana with integral Chetak helicopter and indigenously built corvettes Kamorta and Karmuk. In addition, IN submarine Sindhuraj and P8I maritime reconnaissance aircraft also participated in the exercise. RSN was represented by the ‘Formidable’ Class frigates ‘Intrepid’ and ‘Steadfast’ with integral S70B helicopter and ‘Endurance’ Class Landing Ship Tank ‘Endeavour’ in the exercise.
The exercise, conducted as a ‘non-contact, at sea only’ exercise in view of Covid-19 pandemic, highlights the high degree of mutual trust and confidence, synergy and cooperation in the maritime domain between the two friendly navies and maritime neighbours. SIMBEX-20 witnessed the two friendly navies participate in advanced surface, anti-air warfare and anti-submarine warfare exercises including weapon firings, over three days of intensive joint operations at sea. SIMBEX series of exercises exemplify the high level of coordination and convergence of views between India and Singapore, particularly in the maritime domain, towards enhancing the overall maritime security in the region and highlight their commitment to a rules-based international order.
EXERCISE SITMEX-20 IN ANDAMAN SEA
Indian Navy (IN) Ships including indigenously built ASW corvette Kamorta and missile corvette Karmuk participated in the 2nd edition of India, Singapore and Thailand Trilateral Maritime Exercise SITMEX-20, from 21 to 22 November 20 in Andaman Sea. The first edition of SITMEX, hosted by Indian Navy, was conducted off Port Blair in September 2019. The SITMEX series of exercises are conducted to enhance mutual interoperability and imbibing best practices between IN, Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) and Royal Thai Navy (RTN). The 2020 edition of the exercise was hosted by RSN.
RSN was represented by the ‘Formidable’ Class frigate ‘Intrepid’ and ‘Endurance’ Class Landing Ship Tank ‘Endeavour’ and RTN by the ‘Chao Phraya’ Class frigate ‘Kraburi’ in the exercise. The exercise conducted as a ‘non-contact, at sea only’ exercise in view of COVID-19 pandemic, highlights growing synergy, coordination and cooperation in the maritime domain between the three friendly navies and maritime neighbours. The two days of maritime drills witnessed the three navies participate in a variety of exercises including naval manoeuvres, surface warfare exercises and weapon firings. Besides improving interoperability between the friendly navies, SITMEX series of exercise also aim to strengthen mutual confidence and develop common understanding and procedures towards enhancing the overall maritime security in the region.
30TH INDO-THAI COORDINATED PATROL
The 30th edition of India-Thailand Coordinated Patrol (Indo-Thai CORPAT) between the Indian Navy and the Royal Thai Navy was held from 18-20 November 2020. Indian Naval Ship (INS) Karmuk, an indigenously built Missile Corvette and His Majesty’s Thailand Ship (HTMS) Kraburi, a Chao Phraya Class Frigate along with Dornier Maritime Patrol Aircraft from both the navies participated in the CORPAT. As part of Government of India’s vision of SAGAR (Security And Growth for All in the Region), the Indian Navy has been involved in assisting countries in the Indian Ocean Region with EEZ Surveillance, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), and other capacity building and capability-enhancement activities, on their request. India and Thailand have especially enjoyed a close and friendly relationship covering a wide spectrum of activities and interactions, which have strengthened over the years.
To reinforce maritime links, the two navies have been carrying out CORPAT along their International Maritime Boundary Line twice a year since 2005, with the aim of keeping this vital part of the Indian Ocean safe and secure for commercial shipping and international trade. CORPAT builds up the understanding and interoperability between navies and facilitates institution of measures to prevent and suppress Illegal Unreported Unregulated (IUU) fishing, drug trafficking, maritime terrorism, armed robbery and piracy. It further enhances the operational synergy by exchange of information for prevention of smuggling, illegal immigration and for conduct of SAR operations at sea. The 30th Indo-Thai CORPAT contributed towards Indian Navy’s efforts to consolidate interoperability and forge strong bonds of friendship with the Royal Thai Navy.
Coast Guard busy handling Cyclone Nivar rescue and relief operations
Indian Coast Guard is ready in all respects to undertake search, rescue and Relief operations in the aftermath of the Cyclone ‘NIVAR’. ICG has deployed about 8-9 ships and two Dornier aircraft every day since 22 Nov 20 on the Eastern Seaboard to issue warnings in vernacular language to the fishermen and mariners at sea of the impending adverse weather condition due to the passage of ‘NIVAR’ and requesting them to return to nearest ports for safety. The ICG has so far escorted about2500 fishing boats operating at sea to nearest ports and all Merchant vessels at Port anchorages were also advised to keep clear from the path of cyclone.
Indian Coast Guard commenced its pre-emptive actions with the issuance of Advisory to the local administration, fisheries and fishermen association about formation of low pressure over the south east Bay of Bengal. In addition, Ports were requested to shift the vessels at anchorage to safer locations well before the arrival of the cyclone. Navtex warnings and International safety Net (ISN) were activated with 6 hourly request to the merchant vessels transiting the area to advise the fishermen to return to harbour.23 Coast Guard Disaster Relief Teams (DRTs) with inflatable boats, Life buoys and lifejackets has been kept standby all along the Tamil Nadu and East Coast for undertaking Disaster response operations. Medical teams & ambulances have also been kept standby for swift mobilisation.ICG ships and aircraft continue to carry out area patrol for Search and rescue operation post passage of the cyclone.The pre-emptive actions initiated by the ICG has ensured ‘No Loss of life and property at sea’ during the cyclone. ICG, true to its motto ‘Vyam Rakshamah” meaning “We Protect” has saved more than 123 lives at sea during and aftermath of cyclone NIVAR.
1,971-km cycle expedition to celebrate golden jubilee of the 1971 war
To commemorate the golden jubilee victory celebrations and to pay homage to the sacrifices made by the soldiers during the 1971 war, a 1,971 km ‘Swarnim Vijay Varsh Cyclothon’ across Gujarat and Rajasthan, is being steered under the aegis of The Konark Corps of Indian Army. The Cyclothon will be undertaken by the relay teams of 20 participants each of the various Army Formations across the two states.The expedition was flagged off on 26 November from anoutpost near Lakhpat by Honorary Captain Gumansinh Jhala, an 87 year old war veteran who had participated in both Indo-Pak wars of 1965 & 1971, then serving with 7 Grenadiers. During this leg, the team traversed through the vast expanse of Kutch, cycling a distance of 200 Kilometers across Hajipir, Khavda and culminated at Bhuj.
Meanwhile as part of commencement of the ‘Swarnim Vijay Varsh’ anEx-Servicemen Outreach Program was organized by Bald Eagle Brigade at Bhuj. Medical facilities were extended by the doctors of Bald Eagle Brigade & GKGH-Kutch. Representatives of Zila Sainik Board, Kutch, SBI Bhuj & District Commissioner, Kutch were present to redress grievances of Veterans & Kin of Ex-Servicemen, as also disseminate welfare schemes of Ex Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme.Mrs Sonal M Gadhvi, a Veer Naari from Madhapar, Bhuj presently teaching at Army Public School, wife of Late Naik Mansingh Rajde Gadhvi of Mahar Regiment who made the supreme sacrifice while serving in Operation Rakshak in year 2004, was felicitated during the Outreach Camp by Commander of Bald Eagle Brigade.The commencement of the Swarnim Vijay Varsh Celebrations will foster team spirit, adventurous and bold outlook and improve morale and robustness of all elements of Armed Forces.
Indian Navy completes refit of Maldivian ship CGS Huravee
Naval dockyard Visakhapatnam completed the refit of Maldivian Coast Guard Ship MNDF CGS Huravee. Rear Admiral Sreekumar Nair, Admiral Superintendent handed over the ship to the Commanding Officer Major Hussain Rasheed at Visakhapatnam on Wednesday. Colonel Ahmed Thohir, Defence Advisor of Maldives to India, attended the ceremony wherein he conveyed the satisfaction of the Maldives Government and also read a message from the Minister of Defence, Government of Maldives on the excellent conduct of refit amidst the pandemic and thanked the Government of India, Indian Navy and HQENC for smooth and safe completion of the refit.
The ship arrived in Visakhapatnam for its refit on 22 February 2020. Notwithstanding the limitations imposed due to Covid-19 pandemic since 20 March, dedicated efforts and careful planning & execution of works by Naval Dockyard with adequate safety enabled major refurbishment/replacement of main propulsion and auxiliary equipment.
Renewal of ship’s power generation equipment has provided a major fillip to the ship’s endurance and capability. Further, several systems and equipment were overhauled successfully to ensure better performance and sustainability of the ship for service with the Maldives Coast Guard during the upcoming operational cycle. The ship was put through extensive harbour and sea trials, to achieve full operational readiness.MNDF CGS Huravee (originally INS Tillanchang) is an indigenously built Trinkat class patrol vessel constructed at Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers, Kolkata in 2001. Subsequently, it was gifted to Maldives by the Government of India in 2006 to strengthen the partnership between the two nations and to cooperate further for the maritime safety of the Indian Ocean Region.Rear Admiral Sreekumar Nair, Admiral Superintendent of Naval Dockyard, Visakhapatnam was the Chief Guest and addressed the gathering on the occasion.
He highlighted the stringent measures incorporated during the refit to ensure that the crew and the Yard workforce remained free from Covid-19 infection whilst meeting the refit targets.
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