Embassy of India
Visit of Indian Navy’s 1st Training Squadron to Muscat, Oman
Interaction with Naval Cadets
September 30, 2022
Remarks by Ambassador Amit Narang
‘HANDS ON DECK IN THE SERVICE OF INDIA’
Commanding Officers and Sailors of INS Tir, INS Sujata and ICGS Sarathi of the First Training Squadron
I am honored to visit the 1st Training Squadron and welcome all of you to Muscat.
Let me at the outset extend a warm welcome to you as you embark on your maiden sea voyage upon joining the Indian Navy and come ashore to Oman, a land with which our naval interaction goes back several thousand years.
Serving as Ambassador of India to Oman, which in maritime terms is perhaps our closest naval footprint in the region, and having been at the helm of India’s foreign policy for the Indian Ocean Region prior to this assignment, my remarks to you will have a substantial personal touch.
Let me begin by congratulating you on joining the Indian Navy, a modern, sophisticated and professional fighting force; an arm of the Indian armed forces that is truly international not just in its reach and impact but more importantly in its intellectual imagination.
This is a service that will literally ‘take you places’, keep your mental horizons broad and your compass on the move.
While all eras are special, it would not be out of place to say that you are joining the Indian Navy at an especially propitious moment in history.
India as a traditional maritime nation is today rapidly transforming itself into a formidable maritime power with a naval force that is not only among the world’s largest, but increasing sophisticated and able to project power and benign influence far away from our coastlines.
Just a few weeks ago, Prime Minister launched India’s first indigenously built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, making India a handful of countries with the capability to design and build a ship of this size and complexity, demonstrating the technological leaps we have taken in the 75 years of our independence.
As the inheritor of our nation’s rich maritime heritage, the Indian Navy has grown in size, strength and capability year on year since independence and today its daunting presence across the oceans truly demonstrates its reach and influence across the vast swathes of oceanic waters.
As Naval Cadets you cannot but be conscious of the significant role and contribution of the maritime domain to the Nation’s growth, security and prosperity.
As Indian economy has grown, its reliance on the maritime domain has only increased, with implications for our trade, commerce and energy security. You will be called upon to secure this domain and in doing so directly contribute to India’s growth and transformation.
The Indian Navy that you are joining is today more than just a fighting force.
More often than not, you will be called upon to carry out tasks and roles that will be far removed from war fighting, including doing things such as delivering rations and medicines in our extended maritime neighbourhood.
I will dwell on this a bit later, but suffice to say that the broad range of operations that the Indian Navy undertakes today has undergone a sea change, no pun intended. This wide spectrum also has a significant diplomatic component, something that makes the Navy a very special service.
But most importantly, you are joining the Indian Navy at a time when India, and indeed the whole world, is intellectually reimagining the maritime space and coming up with new constructs to define and bookend it.
That we live in a world in flux should be obvious to anyone who reads the morning paper, or to put it more contemporarily, glances through social media headlines.
From a maritime perspective, the salience of maritime choke points has increased - even as global supply chains have become stressed, melting ice due to climate change is literally adding more water to the oceans, opening up areas for navigation hitherto closed; and great power competition is increasingly about the control of the oceanic space, or at the very least motivated by the exigency of keeping this space open, inclusive and rules-based.
As you sail into a new journey as Indian Naval cadets therefore, you are not just the inheritors of a proud maritime legacy, but also torchbearers of a new phase of maritime diplomacy.
Your career in the Indian Navy will see you performing multifarious roles, some established, some emerging and some unseen and unimagined.
From my own perspective, five such roles deserve mention - each essential, each important and each a critical part of modern day maritime conduct.
First, delivering aid.
I alluded to supplying rations earlier. Indian Navy has today assumed the role of the First Responder in the region and this will enjoin you to reach shores afar with humanitarian aid. This may be in the form of rice, or oil, or water or even vaccines.
I speak from experience.
In January 2020, when cyclone Diane devastated parts of Madagascar, INS Airavat was the first to reach with 600 tonnes of rice. This was Op Vanilla.
In May 2020, as the pandemic disrupted sea borne trade and supplies to island countries, India’s Ministry of External Affairs and Indian Navy launched the first ever combined Mission covering the entire Indian Ocean region. This was the iconic Mission Sagar.
INS Kesari traveled over 7500 nautical miles over 55 days delivering foodgrains, Covid medicines, Ayuvedic medicines, and medical assistance teams to Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, Madagascar and Comoros. This was a major milestone in India’s maritime and Covid diplomacy.
Second, disaster prevention and relief.
Indian Navy and the Coast Guard are the first in the region to douse fires, speaking both metaphorically and concretely. I was witness to two such mammoth HADR operations in our maritime neighbourhood.
The grounding of super tanker Wakashio off the coast of Mauritius led to an environmental emergency and India responded swiftly, preventing a major environmental disaster and an economic and tourist shock to Mauritius.
An even bigger disaster was averted much closer to our land when the combined team of ICGS and IN was able to mobilize within hours of MT New Diamond catching fire off the east coast of Sri Lanka.
Both these operations vividly showcased not just our renewed capability to deploy at scale and at vast distances but more importantly our willingness to step up the plate and serve as a first responder to such crises in our maritime neighbourhood.
The third major role that the Indian Navy is called upon to play is to secure and keep safe our sea-lanes of communication. This is a critical service that has a direct impact on the economic health and wellbeing our country.
Increasingly though the role of IN in this regard has expanded to not just look at SLOCs from our own national perspective but to secure and protect them as global commons.
Today, when IN vessels deploy off the coast of Oman under Op Sankalp, they are providing a service to all nations who have a stake in the stability of SLOCs and choke-free maritime trade.
The fourth and perhaps the most obvious role is ensuring maritime security.
India’s geographical place straddling atop the Indian Ocean gives it a veritable pole position when it comes to maritime security in the region. Nevertheless, the Indian Ocean is now a crowded space and it will take imagination, dedication and will to convert its competitive challenges into cooperative possibilities.
You will have a central role to play in this regard.
It is important to note however that in today’s day and age, the concept of maritime security itself has metamorphosed.
Maritime safety and security is increasingly multifaceted, especially with the growth of non-traditional threats. The security palate in front of us includes in equal measure maritime terrorism, smuggling, transnational crimes such as drug-trafficking and arms smuggling, illegal immigration, IUU fishing, piracy to name a few.
These are the threats that you will likely confront on a daily basis, testing your training, resilience and coordination skills.
Fifth is your role as diplomats. Yes, diplomats do not only belong to the Foreign Service. White is also a color of diplomacy and naval visits and exchanges play a vital role in facilitating international exchanges.
In many ways, international exchanges and cooperation will be your daily bread and butter, meeting and greeting friendly ships on sea, calling on ports such as this one in Muscat, providing SAR and HADR services to distressed foreign nationals and working with like-minded partners to neutralize maritime threats.
It is possible that upon your retirement, some of you as Naval officers would have seen more countries than your counterparts in the IFS. And no, we are not jealous of that!
In fact, the close coordination between diplomats and sailors, i.e. between the MEA and Indian Navy – which I have witnessed from close quarters – is a key instrument of maritime diplomacy and will be an essential skill to you.
Diplomacy brings me to your current perch, our maritime neighbour Oman.
The bilateral maritime history between India and Oman dates back to more than 5000 years. The first contact between these lands was established by sea and till date the oceanic medium remains the key driver of our bilateral cooperation. Story goes that it was a sailor from Oman Abdul Ibn Majid who guided the European explorer Vasco da Gama from the African coast to Indian shores.
Several generations of Indians and Omanis have traversed the Arabian Sea and laid down the keel of an enduring maritime relationship. Consequently, many Indians have also made Oman their home and you will meet some of them during your stay here.
The contributions made by mariners of the yore from coasts of Kutch and Malabar on Indian side and from Salalah, Sur and Muscat from Omani side merits special mention. The warmth and support we enjoy in this land today is largely attributable to the brave seafarers of yesterday.
Many of you will return to these ports during the course of your journeys in the Indian Ocean. Many of you will have the opportunity to work closely with the officers of the Royal Navy of Oman.
Cooperation between Indian and Omani naval forces is a force for good in this maritime region and I am sure that the two navies will sail together into deeper waters, learning from each other with mutual respect and understanding.
Your professional conduct and interactions during bilateral engagements with the host navy would contribute immensely to maintaining the excellent reputation that we enjoy.
In conclusion, as you gain your ‘first sea legs’ on completion of training at the Indian Naval Academy, let me welcome you to Oman once again.
The Indian Embassy is happy and proud to contribute to your growth and exposure abroad. In addition to the professional interactions, I would urge you to make the most from your stay, explore the beautiful city of Muscat and experience life in Oman.
May you have fair winds and calm seas, an even keel and a steady compass.
Wish you happy sailings, both in this journey and the illustrious naval career that awaits you ahead.
Always remain hands on deck in the service of India.