India ready to see off Sudarshini on voyage

Sea-ready:Defence Minister A.K. Antony will flag off the sailing expedition lasting six months at the Southern Naval Command in Kochi on September 15.  

In an unprecedented initiative of the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Defence, tall ship INS Sudarshini is being launched on a nine-nation ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) voyage as India’s goodwill ambassador at sea to cement its ties with these nations.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony will flag off the sailing expedition lasting six months at the Southern Naval Command here on September 15. Chief of Naval Staff Admiral D.K. Joshi, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and heads of missions of ASEAN countries in India will be present to wish fair winds to the three-masted barque as it embarks on the historic mission to mark a decade of India’s summit-level partnership with ASEAN.

The sailing odyssey, originally a training cruise, forms part of a bevy of events lined up by various Central agencies and trade bodies in the build-up to the forthcoming ASEAN-India Special Commemorative Summit beginning December 21.

For the newly inducted Sudarshini — Indian Navy’s second sail training ship after INS Tarangini, which is currently under refit — its maiden voyage couldn’t have been better.

Casting off from Kochi, the vessel will take 10 days to dock at Chennai before pulling a stop at 13 foreign ports across nine nations in a bid to bolster friendship across the seas.

As it retraces the ancient route taken by Indian mariners to South East Asia, the sail ship will spend a total of 127 days at sea and log 12,217 nautical miles before berthing back at Kochi on March 29 next year, says a jubilant Commander N. Shyam Sundar, Commanding Officer of INS Sudarshini.

Crew onboard

On the voyage, the ship will be manned by five officers and 31 sailors besides 30 Naval and Coast Guard cadets, who will be turned-around at Bali, Manila and Singapore.

“Attached to the Navy’s First Training Squadron, the cadets will acquire basic seamanship and navigation skills to hard-earn their sea legs. The ship will take on board two foreign trainees at each port of call who will disembark at the next, laying the ground for the enhancement of bilateral relations and joint exercises in future,” says Commander Sundar.

Cultural fetes that showcase India, ship visit exchanges and passing exercise will liven up and lend colour to Sudarshini’s brief visit at each port.

The entire voyage will be undertaken on sail, wind permitting. But on occasions when the winds play truant, the sea turns rough or as the vessel enters ‘pilotage waters’ — during port entry and departure — its 325 bhp Cummins engines, on auxiliary mode otherwise, will be cranked up to steer it.

Alongside the transnational voyage, a series of events like a car rally; ministerial-level meetings of ASEAN and India; the fourth ASEAN-India eminent persons’ meet; and conferences by industry bodies like the FICCI and CII will take place later this year.