Sail training ship INS Sudarshini on Saturday set sail on a historic voyage lasting six months to celebrate India’s two-decade-long partnership with member countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The voyage, jointly organised by the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Defence in the build-up to the forthcoming Indo-ASEAN special summit in December, was flagged off by Navy Chief Admiral D.K. Joshi at the Southern Naval Command’s south jetty.

The voyage commemorates 20 years of dialogue partnership and 10 years of summit-level partnership between India and the ASEAN.

In his address, Admiral Joshi expressed pride in the fact that cultural, economic and diplomatic linkages across the Indian Ocean were being reinforced through maritime endeavours such as this. “It was in 1992 that India embarked on the Look East Policy…. The trade between India and the ASEAN countries has grown over time to touch the $50 billion mark and it is set to cross $70 billion this year,” he said.

The Navy Chief also pointed out that maritime initiatives and regional forums such as the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, Milan and Corpats (coordinated patrols) with various countries helped India address various challenges and offered several opportunities. He also termed INS Sudarshini as India’s ‘Ambassador-at-Large’ furthering the common vision of peace and prosperity.

Vice-Admiral Satish Soni, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Southern Naval Command, extolled the virtues of sail training, saying the voyage would give naval and coast guard cadets a ‘sea sense’. Former Ambassador Shyam Saran, Co-Chair of the ASEAN-Indian Eminent Persons’ Group, said the voyage would retrace the civilisational and historical links between India and South East Asia and mark the contemporary maritime linkages of trade and technology.

During the expedition covering 12,000 nautical miles, INS Sudarshini will visit 13 ports. Commanded by Commander N. Shyam Sundar, the three-masted barque, the second of the Navy, has a crew of 31 on the current voyage. The ship is slated to return to Kochi on March 29, 2013.

Heads of missions of ASEAN countries, members of the eminent persons’ group, senior diplomats and naval officers were present to wish godspeed to the vessel as it left the south jetty with the first squadron cadets standing on the yard arms of the ship’s masts.

Earlier, Admiral Joshi was presented a guard of honour by the Southern Naval Command.

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