New Delhi: India will continue to maintain a naval presence in the troubled Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, to protect and reassure Indian-flagged merchant vessels and oil tankers transiting through the region.
“The Strait of Hormuz is a major chokepoint. Disruption in trade in this region can have a major impact on our economy. Under `Operation Sankalp’, we will continue to deploy a frontline warship, either a destroyer or a frigate with a helicopter and a marine commando intervention team, in the region,” a senior Navy officer said.
India, in fact, launched Operation Sankalp in June 2019 after mysterious explosions on board two foreign oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, MV Front Altair and MV Kokuka Courageous, amidst heightened tensions between Iran and the US.
With the attacks underlining the vulnerability of sea-borne trade transiting through the constricted geographical locations, the Navy had then dispatched destroyer INS Chennai and patrol vessel INS Sunayna to the Gulf of Oman.
“Indian Navy was the first to deploy ships to safeguard the passage of merchant ships through the region. It was taken on independently and not as a part of any coalition,” the officer added.
Two years later, the continuous forward naval deployment continues. As many as 23 Indian warships in rotation have been deployed to the Gulf region, with an average of 16 Indian-flagged merchant vessels and tankers being provided safe passage on a daily basis.
“Given the prevailing security situation there, the presence of an Indian warship acts as a deterrence to any hostile threat as well as reassures our merchant vessels. If requested, we also embark a security team of marine commandos on a vessel for some duration,” the officer said.
“Around 60% of India’s oil imports, after all, comes from this region. Despite diversification of sources for import of oil, Gulf countries are likely to continue as major suppliers for India. Moreover, the Indian diaspora numbers around 8.5 million in the region,” he added.
Operation Sankalp is now a part of the “mission-based deployments (MBDs)” launched by the Navy in 2017 in the Indian Ocean Region, stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Malacca Strait. Under MBDs, several warships are deployed on a “sustained basis across our areas of interest” to meet any operational contingency from conventional threats and maritime terrorism to piracy and humanitarian disaster relief.
“This not only helps us undertake foreign cooperation initiatives for the nation, but also enables our ships to respond to any emerging situation without any delay,” another officer said.
The Navy says one of its key roles as a security provider for the country’s “Blue Economy” includes maintaining a secure and stable maritime environment to enable unhindered pursuit of maritime economic activities.