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February 5, 2002
2313 IST

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India, US look to strengthen naval cooperation

Josy Joseph in New Delhi

The navies of India and the United States will discuss means to counter terrorist threats from sea and ways to ensure safety of sea-lanes in the region during their executive steering group meeting that began in Chennai on Tuesday.

The Indian side is led by Deputy Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral SV Gopalachari, while the US side is led by Commander of the US 7th fleet, Vice Admiral J Wallace Metzger.

A senior Indian official said the two sides would 'discuss the future joint exercises, seminars and other cooperation between the navies'.

India and US have in the past held a series of highly advanced bilateral exercises named 'Malabar Series'. But they lapsed with the post-Pokhran military sanctions imposed by the US in 1998.

According to sources, the United States is eager to join hands with India in stricter monitoring of the sea-lanes in Indian Ocean, and securing Malacca Straits, world's second busiest sea route. Regular joint patrolling of the sea-lanes is what the American side is interested in.

Indian naval officials, however, said that there was no such proposal from the Indian side.

"If the United States brings it up, we would discuss it, but a final decision on such joint patrolling needs Cabinet approval," a senior navy officer said.

The Indian navy carries out independent patrolling of the seas, including Malacca straits. In specific cases, where there are incidents of piracy, the navy and the Coast Guard join hands with the navies of other countries for joint operations.

However, the Indian navy hasn't till date carried out joint patrols with any foreign navy.

Intelligence agencies fear that the Al Qaeda terrorists would in all probability use sea routes for moving around and carrying out deadly strikes. The FBI has already issued an international warning saying atomic installations along the sea are among the key targets of Al Qaeda.

In response, India has beefed up its security around all atomic installations. The navy has provided marine commando cover, Coast Guard has intensified their patrolling and anti-aircraft guns are also believed to be in place.

The US navy has been carrying out strict monitoring of all commercial ships passing through the entire region, especially in the north Arabian Sea and its personnel have been carrying out physical check of ships that are in north Arabian Sea.

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