Thursday, November 12, 2009

India wants warships it lent to Sri Lanka back

The Indian Coast Guard is uncertain about getting back two warships that it leased out to the Sri Lankan Navy in 2007 on an annually renewable contract.

The two vessels, Coast Guard Ship (CGS) Varaha and CGS Vigraha, equipped with helicopters and rapid-fire machine guns, were leased out when Colombo was preparing for the offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

But now the Sri Lankan Navy appears to be clueless about the Coast Guard’s demand for returning the warships and renamed the Varaha as Sagara and the Vigraha as Sayurala.

Sri Lankan Navy spokesperson Captain Athula Senarath said on phone from Colombo that his country was grateful to India for making the two vessels available to it.

The government might find it hard to put diplomatic niceties aside to accommodate the Coast Guard. It also does not want to lose more ground to China and Pakistan, which have been catering to Sri Lanka’s military needs.

A senior defence ministry official, who did not wish to be identified, confirmed, “They (The Coast Guard) feel the Sri Lankan Navy doesn’t need the vessels, with the LTTE dead and gone.”

The source said the government was likely to provide new replacements to the Coast Guard for the ships given to Sri Lanka.

While the government has sanctioned 55 more warships and 45 aircraft for the Coast Guard after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, it is no secret that these assets cannot be inducted overnight.

“Orders have been placed with various shipyards, but deliveries will take at least two years to complete. In that sense, we are still grappling with a shortage of assets,” said a Coast Guard source.

The Coast Guard is responsible for securing territorial waters extending to 12 miles off the Indian shores. It does so under the supervision of the Indian Navy.


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