Defending the sale of USS Trenton, which India acquired for over Rs 200 crore and which saw a poisonous gas leak kill six people in February, United States Secretary of Navy Donald C Winter on Thursday said he did not think the sale was a deal gone wrong.
"I am not familiar with your Comptroller's report. I am not aware of any issues. When we take a look at modernisation of our fleet, we have plans for ships of the same class as Trenton," Winter said, when asked about the damning report that the Comptroller and Auditor General had issued about the ship, which was rechristened INS Jalashwa.
Asked if the US was helping out in the investigation, Winter said they were doing all that they could. "We have worked very hard on that. We have provided the investigators with all the data that has been requested. We will also ensure that any other data that is necessary will be provided."
He said the US still had six ships of the same class as that of Trenton (Austin class) and that they have proven to be very capable. "The arrangement to sell the ship to India is a good way of providing mutual support and India should be able to make good use.
"The accident is regrettable and I regret the loss of lives that occurred. We will ensure that such things don't occur in the future." he said.
The United Progressive Alliance government was criticised for spending so much on the aging carrier after the CAG's report labelled the buy as 'hasty' and done without 'proper physical assessment'.
The report highlighted the disadvantages of giving US the right for regular inspections and also the restrictive clause that says India cannot deploy the ship for offensive purposes.
Winter, who is in India to discuss maritime cooperation with Indian Defence Secretary Vijay Singh and Indian Navy Admiral Sureesh Mehta, visited the headquarters of the Western Naval Command at Mumbai and the shipbuilding facility at Mazagon Docks.
He said the two countries share common interests in maritime security. "It is becoming an increasing challenge in many areas and we will see increasing cooperation between the countries. We will exchange data on what is happening on the seas," he said.
He said smuggling, narcotics, weapons, trafficking in persons are some of the maritime problems that the countries face he said: "We want to make sure we understand what is happening and engage in a cooperative manner, understand and support each other. Enhancing military to military relationships is also extremely important."
Stressing the importance of the Indian Ocean to the US, he said that the two countries are dependent on each other for preserving the sea lines of communication. "This is also an area that has more than a few challenges. From piracy all the way up to terrorism we are dealing with a broad spectrum of issues," he said.
He said the recent series of bilateral exercises has given the two countries to explore how they can work together.
On the US's plans to expand its navy, he said one of the major objectives that it has is to increase the size of the navy. "Our navy has shrunk considerably. We find it too small for the challenges. We are engaged in a series of ship building activities. In that sense I found the visit to India very valuable," Winter, who was briefed about India's new submarine construction activities in Mumbai, said.
Image: United States Secretary of Navy Donald C Winter
Photograph: Reuben N V