Express News Service
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Cyclone Ockhi and the frantic scramble for organising rescue efforts down south have yet again underscored the need for permanently stationing Naval and Coast Guard ships in Thiruvananthapuram.
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In 2013, steps were initiated to find space for docks for defence vessels at the proposed international seaport at Vizhinjam, but the efforts yielded scant results. All the bigger Naval and Coast Guard vessels involved in the ongoing search and rescue operations have been rushed in from Kochi and elsewhere. It remains to be seen whether the Navy’s requirement will be met once the Adani Group-developed port is commissioned in a few years’ time.
Of course, the concession agreement inked between the state government and the Adani Vizhinjam Port Pvt Ltd on August 17, 2015, does contain clauses enabling defence vessels to use the deepwater port in an emergency. Yet, it scarcely mentions anything about permanent arrangements.
About the ‘use of port by Defence Forces’, clause 17.17.1 of the concession agreement says, “The concessionaire acknowledges and agrees that the Defence Forces shall at all times have the right to use the Port and all facilities thereof, without any restriction or constraint of any nature whatsoever, on payment of compensation in accordance with Applicable Laws.” Clause 17.17.2 reads, “Without prejudice to the provisions of Clause 17.7.1, the Concessionaire’s obligations to the Defence Forces in respect of usage of the Port during an Emergency shall be determined by GOI from time to time and to the extent thereof, the Concessionaire shall be relieved of its obligations to provide services to civilian users of the Port.”
In 2013, after the Navy and Coast Guard evinced keen interest in finding permanent berths for their vessels at the port, the Oommen Chandy-led government had agreed, but on the condition they too share a part of the cost fixed at `498 crore. The Navy was eyeing 500 metres of the dock space at the port. The Southern Naval Command (SNC) had cleared this proposal, but it somehow fell flat.
For the state government, the Naval ships will be a reassuring presence in Thiruvananthapuram. And for the Navy, Vizhinjam offers a strategic location to keep its eyes skinned on the Indian Ocean region where China is hoping to expand its reach.
Former Vice Chief of the Naval Staff Vice Admiral R P Suthan underscored the importance of Vizhinjam port for the Navy, “It’s a deepwater port that offers easy access to the sea. I’m sure the Navy will take up the matter with the government if and when the port is completed.”