Indian Coast Guard modernizing fleet, enforcing laws, saving lives

Indian Coast Guard modernizing fleet, enforcing laws, saving lives

Mandeep Singh

Domestically manufactured offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) are a vital cog in the Indian Coast Guard’s (ICG’s) mission to protect Indian waters against unauthorized intrusions and criminal activity. The Coast Guard’s fleet modernization, coupled with the “Make in India” initiative of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, led New Delhi to employ two of the country’s leading shipyards to produce 12 large OPVs.

Two of the vessels, both designed and assembled in India, were unveiled recently. The ICGS Vigraha, a 98-meter-long, 2,140-ton OPV, launched near the southeastern port city of Chennai on October 6, 2020, according to its maker, the privately owned Larsen & Toubro (L&T). On August 13, 2020, the 105-meter ICGS Sarthak was launched by state-owned Goa Shipyard Ltd. (GSL) in the western state of Goa.

The Vigraha is the last of seven OPVs contracted to L&T by India’s Ministry of Defence in March 2015, and the Sarthak is the fourth of five contracted to GSL by the ministry in 2016. (Pictured: The ICGS Vikram, an offshore patrol vessel, was built as part of the “Make in India” campaign.)

Each can carry a helicopter and will be outfitted with high-speed boats, medical facilities and advanced surveillance systems. The ICG has been a “pioneer in inducting indigenous assets,” ICG Director General Krishnaswamy Natarajan said in a news release announcing the Sarthak’s launch.

The OPVs will conduct surveillance, rescue missions, and anti-smuggling and anti-piracy operations, among other tasks, according to the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency. Two recent operations demonstrated the vessels’ capabilities.

On September 28, 2020, two ICG patrol vessels were dispatched to assist a traditional sailing ship, known as a dhow, that was sinking in the Arabian Sea near the Indian state of Gujarat, according to the Maritime Executive online news portal. Although the dhow, which was carrying 900 tons of cargo, sank, the ICG rescued all 12 crew members.

On October 22, a Sri Lankan fishing boat entered India’s exclusive economic zone in violation of international law, according to PTI. Reconnaissance aircraft spotted the vessel 75 nautical miles from the city of Karaikal in southeastern India and the ICGS Abheek patrol vessel was dispatched. After a chase, the Sri Lankan craft was stopped and impounded, and its six crew members were taken into custody.

Mandeep Singh is a FORUM contributor reporting from New Delhi, India.