Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma on Friday said the Navy preferred to work together with other navies in the Indian Ocean region rather than assume leadership as envisaged by the U.S.

“We are talking about coming together on a constructive level… and [Indian Navy] not coming in as a headmaster,” Admiral Verma said on the sidelines of a seminar organised as part of the multi-lateral “Milan” exercise, in which 13 countries are participating here.

He was responding to a question on how the country visualised its role following the Pentagon’s latest assessment that the Indian Navy was acquiring the capability and could possibly assume a greater security role in the region.

Nine foreign ships and delegations from 12 countries including Australia, Brunei, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam arrived here on Wednesday for the 7th edition of the exercise.

The officers and personnel first held operational interaction and took part in a table-top exercise on Thursday aimed at enabling all participating ships to undertake joint planning towards building mutual confidence and improving inter-operability in dealing with problems like piracy, arms and drug running and illegal migration.

Admiral Verma said the theme of the seminar, “Navies in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Operations,” gave the flavour of cooperation being envisaged by the different navies in the South and South East Asian region.

“Our coming together is not a security bloc but to cooperate to tackle man-made and natural disasters,” he said when asked whether the multi-lateral exercise could raise Beijing’s suspicion considering that some participating countries had maritime disputes with China.

On the “Malabar” exercises with the U.S., he said, it will remain bilateral. A few years ago, the exercise included navies of the U.S., Singapore, Australia and Japan, a move that did not go down well with China. On China’s capability and Indian preparations, Admiral Verma said the Navy’s plans were made taking into account the region and were not country-specific. He said India had the deterrence of conventional capability.

Admiral Verma said creating awareness among the fishing community to threats from the sea, a task undertaken as part of the coastal security plan, has started yielding results. Earlier in his inaugural address at the seminar ‘Andaman & Nicobar Islands,’ Lt. Gov. Bhopinder Singh underscored the need for speed in reaching out to disaster-affected countries.

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