Six-month-long voyage to Asean marks 10 years of India’s summit-level ties

Come March 25 and Defence Minister A.K. Antony will flag in tall ship INS Sudarshini as it comes alongside the Southern Naval Command’s south jetty on completion of a six-month-long voyage to Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), undertaken to mark 10 years of India’s summit-level ties and the 20th anniversary of its dialogue with the grouping.

The nine-nation odyssey, which doubled up as a training cruise for young naval and Coast Guard cadets, was the maiden outing of the three-masted barque — the Navy’s second sail training vessel. External Affairs and Defence Ministries had come together to launch the unique expedition, during which “we have garnered [a] great amount of goodwill and trust, as Sudarshini is a sailing vessel and a real ‘soft power’ that naval diplomacy has,” ship skipper Commander N. Shyam Sundar told The Hindu during an online chat.

“We’ve kindled [the] imagination of [a] large number of students of South East Asia through the visit, and the image of India and [the] Indian Navy has exponentially multiplied in the last six months,” he said.

Sittwe in Myanmar was Sudarshini’s last foreign port of call, after which it took a day’s halt at Port Blair on March 13. In the Bay of Bengal, some 250 nautical miles short of Sri Lanka at the moment, the ship would have logged 12,217 miles in 127 days as it returns to its homeport.

An interactive website launched by the Ministry of External Affairs closely tracked the voyage with visitors being treated to some descriptive pieces of blogging by the skipper and the crew.

Cdr. Sundar wrote on his blogpost on March 12, as Sudarshini was bound for Port Blair: “The Andaman Sea is exceptionally calm during this time of the year. Fantastic sunset makes the entire sea turn crimson. Favourable cyclonic currents are pushing us towards Port Blair. Not a wisp of cloud spoils the beauty of a clear blue sky. This quiet, calm-water sailing suddenly reminds me of the rough patch that we encountered in [the] South China Sea. After the inhospitable screaming winds and hissing giant waves that we have gone through, this leg of sailing feels heavenly. No wonder, for thousands of years, sea has captured the imaginations of man – its flooding and ebbing tides, gentle breeze and gale winds, crests and troughs of waves, cloudy days and surreal sunsets, catastrophic typhoons on one hand and unfathomable quantity of resources in the form of oils, gas, food and minerals to selflessly serve generations to come, on the other (sic). The sea is a phenomenon full of symbolic struggles of life. It is an education every single day. Throughout this ASEAN Expedition, it has happened to us exactly that way,” reads the post.

The rousing reception accorded to the ‘Indian Ambassador at large’ on port calls was indicative of the Asean-India partnership gaining momentum, Cdr. Sundar told The Hindu.

In Brunei, the crown prince dropped by, marking the first visit of the Brunei royalty to an Indian military vessel. Thailand went a notch further to accord the call the status of a State visit.

While, students of a Mahatma Gandhi International school at Bali in Indonesia arrived on board to gift the captain a Gandhi bust.

Though a good part of the voyage was free of events, on occasions when weather pulled a fast one, the crew had to clamber up the masts even in the middle of night to work on the sails.

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