President Pratibha Patil on Saturday called upon the Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) to expand its fleet within a timeframe, laying emphasis on technology, to meet the country's growing requirements.

The President was speaking at the golden jubilee celebrations of the SCI. Much in tune with the exhortation of Ms. Patil, Minister of Shipping G.K. Vasan announced the acquisition of 118 new vessels by 2020.

He said that orders for 28 vessels had been placed, eight of which would be inducted into the SCI fleet by the end of the current financial year. The SCI will be acquiring 50 more vessels by 2015 and 40 more by 2020.

While congratulating the Navratna public sector undertaking (PSU) on completing 50 years and establishing the country as a strong maritime nation, Ms. Patil hoped that the SCI would play a crucial role in meeting the country's energy requirements, expected to grow manifold in the coming years. She urged the SCI to gear up, underlining that India was dependent on import of oil, gas and coal.

Hailing its efforts in training seafarers, Ms. Patil said that the need of the hour was to attract the youth, 54 crore of whom were looking for job opportunities, and provide maritime career as an option.

She also called upon the shipping industry to focus on specialised handling of different forms of ships, and continuously expand, modernise and become competitive.

Referring to the recent collision of two cargo ships in Mumbai, Ms. Patil said it not only caused damage to the ecology of the area but also losses as the Mumbai Port had to be closed. “It is our prime duty to preserve the ocean property, and utmost care needs to be taken to avoid recurrence of such incidents.”

She hoped that the shipping industry and the maritime community would evolve a security drill for merchant ships to ensure the security of personnel and cargo. “There should be greater attention to improved safety standards, to prevent accidents and the devastating effect on the ecology, which has an adverse impact on our image.”

Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee hoped that the Navratna PSU would gain the status of the Maharatna in the days to come, while Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Murli Deora stressed that the SCI would have to play a more important role as the country's refining capacity was set to increase manifold. He added that refined petroleum products were the largest foreign exchange earner for the country.

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