INS Sahyadri visit to Wellington marks new push for India-New Zealand partnership in Pacific region


Indian High Commissioner to New Zealand Neeta Bhushan (left) and Commanding Officer Rajan Kapoor onboard the INS Sahyadri, docked in Wellington Harbour (Photo supplied)

 

Venu Menon
Wellington, September 2,2023

“It is a great honour for me to welcome you all to this historic and momentous occasion onboard the INS Sahyadri. I call it historic because this is the first time that an Indian Naval ship is visiting Wellington, and is docked at Wellington Harbour, after a period of 22 years. We have waited very long for this ship to come here.

“This [moment] is also historic because another Indian Naval ship is visiting Auckland at the same time, and has already reached the Auckland harbour. Two ships [visiting New Zealand] at the same time [and] on the same occasion,” Indian High Commissioner to New Zealand Neeta Bhushan said.

The High Commissioner was speaking at a reception held on Friday on board the Indian warship INS Sahyadri, currently docked at the Wellington Harbour.

The guests assembled on the deck of the vessel included Air Vice Marshal Tony Davies, the Vice Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force, Rear Admiral James Gilmour, Commander of the Joint Defence Forces of New Zealand, Mark Talbot, Head of the Southeast Asia division of the New Zealand  Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), members of the diplomatic corps, defence attaches from friendly foreign countries,   senior officials of the New Zealand defence forces and other government agencies, officials of the Indian High Commission in Wellington, as well as members of the Indian diaspora, among others.

High Commissioner Bhushan expressed her thanks to the ship’s Commanding Officer, Capt Rajan Kapoor, and his crew for visiting New Zealand and “particularly for the role they play in maintaining India’s maritime security and protecting India’s borders and interests in the Indian Ocean region.”

“They have been participating in various friendly exercises and goodwill visits with our partner countries, thus contributing to peace and friendship between India and our friendly partners like New Zealand,” she noted.

Indian High Commissioner Neeta Bhushan addressing guests onboard INS Sahyadri (Photo supplied)

The High Commissioner highlighted the fact that the visiting ship was manufactured and built in India, which in itself was a matter of “great pride for all Indians.”

Hailing the visit by the two Indian naval ships as a clear testimony to the growing relations between India and New Zealand, High Commissioner Bhushan said this development was the outcome of Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaisankar’s visit to New Zealand late last year. At around the same time, Indian Chief of Naval Staff  Admiral Hari Kumar had also visited  New Zealand.

“The ship’s [INS Sahyadri] visit today is an outcome of these high-level engagements,” she observed.

The High Commissioner referenced the White Shipping Agreement inked between the two countries during Admiral Hari Kumar’s visit to New Zealand, as well as the meeting between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Chris Hipkins in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, recently. This was followed by New Zealand Foreign Minister Nania Mahuta’s visit  to India in February this year.

Exclusive Interview with Commanding Officer of INS Sahyadri, Capt. Rajan Kapoor below.

Last week, New Zealand Minister for Trade and Agriculture Damien O’Connor visited India along with a 50-member business delegation, which was preceded by a visit to New Zealand by Indian Ministry of External Affairs top-ranked official Saurabh Kumar for consultations with the New Zealand Foreign Ministry.

Minister O’Connor’s visit to India produced a breakthrough with the signing of an “Air Services Agreement” which augured an era of improved air connectivity between the two countries.

“India’s moon mission Chandrayaan 3 has shown our capabilities in the space sector,” High Commissioner Bhushan pointed out, adding, “I’m particularly happy because a large number of scientists in this mission were women. Our Prime Minister has described it as a special example of Nari [woman] Shakti.”

“As India’s first woman High Commissioner in New Zealand, it is indeed a matter of great pride for me that so many Indian women are doing well in every field,” she remarked, drawing applause from the crowd. The High commissioner acknowledged the role of New Zealand-based hi-tech company Rakon in the Chandrayaan mission.

As an instance of soft power diplomacy, High Commissioner Bhushan noted the resumption of mango imports to New Zealand in recent months.

Indian Navy frigate INS Sahyadri (Photo supplied)

Earlier, welcoming the guests,   INS Sahyadri Commanding Officer Rajan Kapoor noted that the arrival of an Indian warship to New Zealand was a rare and historic occasion. “We all are part of this history today.”

Kapoor acknowledged the warm reception the ship and its crew received from “our brethren from the New Zealand Navy and the New Zealand Defence Forces.

The audience was briefed about the ship, which was a “multi-role stealth frigate” named after the mountain range Sahyadri on the west coast of India. “She is about 143 metres long, with about 6,500 tonnes of steel. She carries enough armament to defend her from any adversary, in any dimension,” Kapoor informed the assembly, adding, “The ship is entirely designed, developed and built in India and the Mazagon Docks in Mumbai.”

INS Sahyadri was among the best warships that sailed the waters of the Indo-Pacific, Commanding Officer Kapoor declared amid ovation from the audience. In closing, he commended the New Zealand Navy for its professionalism and looked forward to interacting with it in future.

Up next, Air Vice Marshal Tony Davies, Vice Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force, complimented INS Sahyadri Commanding Officer Kapoor and his crew for “picking up the title of Best Ship in the Indian [Navy] fleet,” and extended the “warmest regards and respect from our Chief of Defence Force, Air Marshal Kevin Short, to your officers and sailors, and from all of the women and men in the New Zealand Defence Force.”

Air Vice Marshal Davies said he was impressed “by the silhouette of this frigate” that he noticed while driving to work over the last 24 hours, and reflected “not only on its potent combat capabilities” but also on “how pleasing it was to have friends visit New Zealand.”

Davies recalled the last visit of an Indian Naval ship to New Zealand was in 2016 “when INS Sumitra came to New Zealand for our Navy’s 75th anniversary fleet review.” That visit had coincided with the “devastating Kaikoura earthquake.”

Davies traced the genesis of the current visit by INS Sahyadri to the occasion when the New Zealand Chief of Navy, Rear Admiral David Proctor, hosted his Indian counterpart Admiral Hari Kumar during his visit to New Zealand in 2022. “They discussed this concept of a potential ship visit from the Indian Navy to New Zealand, [as well as] the White Shipping Agreement,” Davies recalled.

He noted India and New Zealand faced similar challenges in terms of “geo strategic competition and the impacts of climate change.” Both countries were seeking a “free and open and secure Indo-Pacific.”

Davies quipped he was surprised the two navies were not playing “a game of cricket.”

INS Sahyadri is scheduled to set sail from Wellington on its return voyage to India on 3 September 2023.

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington

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