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Indian naval visit a show of strength amid regional maritime tension

"As is the motto of the most potent and one of the largest indigenously built stealth destroyers, which I am commanding, our navy is always ready and capable of defending Indian interests everywhere," said Captain Sharad Sinsunwal, commanding officer of the INS Kolkata.


Indian naval officers in Auckland on Saturday hinted at their battle-readiness for any challenge that might come their way.

The INS Kolkata and multi-role frigate INS Sahyadri were on a four-day supply visit to New Zealand between 31 August and 3 September. The Kolkata berthed at Ports of Auckland, while the Sahyadri docked at CentrePort in Wellington.

The visit was the first by Indian naval vessels since 2016, when the INS Sumitra visited Auckland as part of the International Naval Review.

Officers from the Indian Navy and Royal New Zealand Navy.

Officers from the Indian Navy and Royal New Zealand Navy. Photo: Supplied

The Kolkata and Sahyadri, in conjunction with P8I maritime patrol aircraft, have recently finished participating in the Malabar exercises in Sydney.

The exercises are a series of maritime drills that started in 1992 as a bilateral exercise between the Indian and US defence forces. Now in its 27th edition, the exercises have grown to include four prominent navies in the Indo-Pacific region, including the US Navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force and the Royal Australian Navy.

"We are very happy at our learnings at Malabar, which was divided into a sea phase and harbour phase," Sinsunwal said. "The sea phase witnessed complex and high-intensity exercises in air, surface and undersea domains, weapon firings and cross-deck helicopter operations. We honed the war-fighting skills and enhanced interoperability between the four navies to undertake advanced maritime operations.

"The exercise not only reaffirmed the ability of the four navies to operate together as an integrated force but also highlighted their shared commitment to maritime security and regional stability."

Captain Rajan Kapoor hosted a Reception on board INS Sahyadri.

Captain Rajan Kapoor hosted a reception on board the INS Sahyadri in Wellington. Photo: Supplied

An obvious question then is whether Sinsunwal and his crew were here to convince the Royal New Zealand Navy to participate in the Malabar exercises in future?

"I can't comment on that, but we are here to enhance the maritime partnership between our two countries," Sinsunwal said. "New Zealand Chief of Navy Rear Admiral David Proctor visited the ship and interacted with my crew yesterday. Also, when we sail out on Sunday, the New Zealand Navy will participate in interoperability exercises with us."

Captain Akhilesh Menon, the Indian government's defence advisor based in Australia, couldn't confirm when the next naval vessel from India would visit.

"That's difficult to say but we are always looking at ways to strengthen mutual cooperation and understanding between the two navies," he said.

Meanwhile, a New Zealand Defence Force spokesperson had told RNZ earlier that New Zealand's defence relationship with India is "long-standing but limited".

"This is primarily due to the distance between the two countries but, on occasion, the two armed forces discuss regional security issues, mutual training opportunities, maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief," the spokesperson said.

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