At least 24 minesweepers needed; and at one time, Indian Navy had 18 of them.

Even after completing the contract negotiations with a South Korean shipyard for building eight minesweepers for the Indian Navy, bureaucratic red tape and procedural wrangle have over the past one year have delayed inking the deal as the files are still doing the rounds in the Defence Ministry.

The process to acquire badly needed minesweepers for the Navy was initiated 13 years ago and the Government is yet to sign the deal with the South Korean firm Kangam which had emerged as the lowest bidder. As a result, Navy’s wait to add to its already depleted strength of minesweepers still continues and the already negotiated deal, estimated to be worth Rs. 24,000 crores, appears to be in a state of limbo.

Though the deal with South Korea denotes New Delhi’s “strategic” partnership with Seoul, the uncertainty in signing the deal is only adding to the woes of the South Korean firm which had emerged as L1 or the lowest bidder in the tendering process in April last year, highly placed sources in the Navy said. Kangam had beaten Italian firm Intermarine and won the bid.

According to the deal, first two minesweepers also called Mine Counter Measure Vessels (MCMV) will be constructed at Pusan, South Korea and the remaining six will be built at the Goa Shipyard through the route of technology transfer. Each of the specialised vessel is likely to cost around Rs. 3,000 crore.

The Navy needs at least 24 minesweepers and at one time had 18 of them. Minesweepers are specialised warships which are used in clearing the sea mines. These vessels are capable of acting as minesweepers and mine hunters. Informed sources said the contract could not be signed after Intermarine of Italy, the Kangam’s competitor, approached the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).

Senior Navy officials say the CVC was informed about the selection process of Kangam and it was thought that the matter has been settled. Navy officials say that India’s ports face the threat of undersea mines that could be planted, putting merchant ships at risk and affecting the trade route that could cripple the country’s economy.

“The role of Navy during the conflict is to also ensure free flow of trade. If harbours are not clear of undersea mines, you can imagine how badly it will hit the country’s economy,” a senior official said. MCMVs are needed to provide safe passage at exit and entry points to a harbour which is critical to Naval operations. Under water mines can be laid easily and these self-contained explosives can pose grave threat to warships and merchant vessels. India boasts of 186 ports of which 13 are major ports.

Minesweepers or the MCMVs use specialised composite material and high grade steel and are equipped to detect all kinds of underwater mines. The Indian Navy operates 12 minesweepers of the Pondicherry and Karwar class but these vessels have become outdated. “If the deal is signed today, Kangam will deliver the first two MCMVs by 2017 and it will take another three or four years for the Goa Shipyard to build its first minesweeper after getting the technology. After that the shipyard can deliver one vessel every year,” sources said.

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