November 15, 2014

Will decide fast on minesweeper deal’

In what may well be his first significant announcement as the country's defence minister, Manohar Parrikar, on Friday, promised to take a decision on the 2,300 crore deal to acquire eight Mine Counter-Measures Vessels or minesweepers from South Korean firm Kangnam Corporation for the Navy as quickly as possible.

"The anti-mine vessel (deal) got stuck because of some clause in the contract which said they have appointed an agent though they have not paid money. But they (the firm) have not been blacklisted," said Parrikar.

"What we are trying to do is give the orders to Goa Shipyard and ask the PSU to go into the technical collaboration... This is the line of thinking and not the final decision," said Parrikar, speaking on the sidelines of a function at Vasco-based Goa Shipyard Ltd. It's his first visit to a defence PSU after taking charge as defence minister.

The former chief minister of Goa also said, "They (officials from the South Korean company and GSL) came to me when I was chief minister. They wanted me to take up the case with the defence minister." The South Korean company officials were in Goa in the last week of October this year.

In 2008, the defense ministry floated a tender for eight minesweepers, which was bagged by Kangnam Corporation. The firm had bid the lowest among three competing vendors. According to the agreement, Kangnam Corporation was to deliver the first two minesweepers by 2016, while Goa Shipyard Ltd would build the remaining six in India through technology transfer by 2018. Each minesweeper is expected to cost around $670million.

The acquisition deal got stalled during the erstwhile Congress-led government's tenure on allegations that the South Korean firm had engaged middlemen. The allegation had been made at that time by BJP MP Radha Mohan Singh, currently the Union agriculture minister.

Minesweepers are specialized warships capable of neutralizing sea mines. The vessel locates mines by high-definition sonar and then a remote-controlled underwater vehicle is used to detonate the mine. Minesweepers are able to locate, sweep, hunt, and neutralize marooned as well as drifting mines. They are usually deployed with local naval defence and search-and-rescue missions. The Navy requires at least 24 mine counter-measures vessels to clear mines laid by enemy warships and aircraft to blockade harbours during war.

The Indian Navy is keen on acquiring minesweepers to replace their aging fleet of 12 Pondicherry and Karwar class minesweepers, which are expected to be phased out by 2020. The 200ft-long Pondicherry class ships are minesweepers built for the Indian Navy by the erstwhile Soviet Union from 1978-88, and are modified versions of the Russian Natya class minesweeper. The Karwar class ships, which came much later, are upgraded warships with the addition of surface-to-air missiles.

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