The 13-nation Milan exercise hosted by the Indian Navy has inched towards converting itself into a joint taskforce for Asia-Pacific region including Australia and New Zealand, with India having a leading role in combating maritime terror, poaching, gun and drug-running.
Milan, a five-day biennial event which ended here yesterday, witnessed the navies from nations across South Asia, Southeast Asia, apart from Australia and New Zealand, debating common concerns and threats in the region during a day-long table-top simulated exercise to arrive at a consensus on "jointmanship and inter-operability" as the only possible antidote.
"The 2004 Tsunami, when 30 navies operated in the region to provide relief and succour to the several thousands hit by the natural disaster, has come as a realisation for the nations in the region on the need to cooperate and work together to tackle issues that afflict the region.
"Terror by non-state actors, gun-running, drug-smuggling, poaching in the exclusive economic zones and illegal migrants are common troubles that the nations in the region face. We have to come together and work jointly, learning from each other's experience and expertise," Andaman and Nicobar Command Chief Vice Admiral D K Joshi said.
Though the grouping may not transform into a "military bloc" or a grouping against any country including China, but it would ensure inter-operability among the Milan nations to work side-by-side in times of need and provide India a strong foothold among the naval forces of the region.
"Already, India is holding bi-annual joint patrols with the Indonesian and Malaysian navies along the international maritime border. We may have to hold such patrols or operations with each of these navies in the Indian Ocean Region in the future," Joshi added.
Besides exchanging notes on 'humanitarian assistance and disaster relief' including community participation, logistics issues and means to prevent tragedy, the 13 navies -- others to participate were Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Brunei -- also talked about the possibility of joint efforts against piracy in the Indian Ocean Region as a whole.
"Milan-2010 is a joint exercise. We are looking at a joint task force against piracy in the region in which all these nations can contribute," Australian patrol boat HMAS Glenelg's Commanding Officer Lt Cdr Shane Doolin said, when asked about the future roadmap for Milan.
Apart from the Australian ship, the event witnessed participation of Bangladeshi offshore patrol vessel BNS Kapatakhaya, Malaysian patrol vessel RMN KD Perak, Myanmarese Corvette UMS Anawrahta, Thailand's patrol anti-submarine warship Longlom, Indonesian Mall Corvette KRI Imam Bonjol, Sri Lankan offshore patrol vessel SLNS Samudura and Singaporean mine sweepers RSS Katong and Punggol.
New Zealand's Maritime Component Commander Commodore Ross Smith, when asked about Milan, said the initiative was good in the sense, India's role as a major naval power in the Indian Ocean region was acknowledged by all nations.
"Indian Ocean is your (India's) ocean. You need to man it. We are always looking for opportunity for joint exercises with Indian Navy, which is big in size," he said.
As an indication of things to come, the nine participating warships from the countries in the region in Milan, saluted the Indian Landing Ship Tanker (Large) INS Kesari, a 5,600-tonne amphibious warship, as a parting gesture during a Passage Exercise in the Bay of Bengal, as they left Port Blair on their voyage back to their respective countries.
Image: The Indian Navy