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Need minesweeper vessels urgently: Navy Chief

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NEW DELHI (PTI): Pitching strongly for minesweeper vessels, Indian Navy Chief Admiral R K Dhowan has said the force level of the minesweeper vessels has gone down and, therefore new ones are "required urgently".

His remarks on Thursday came in the backdrop of a delay in the acquisition of eight minesweeper vessels from a South Korean firm.

The government, sources said, will soon take a final call on a proposed defence deal of over Rs 2,000 crore.

Noting that minesweepers are "very important vessels", the Navy Chief said they are required to keep India's harbours open and safe in event of hostilities.

"Therefore, these are required urgently," he said, adding that force level of minesweepers "has gone down".

"The case is still with the government and a decision is to be taken on it," he told reporters here.

The navy wants eight 800-tonne vessels with composite anti-magnetic hulls that can clear sea mines during hostilities.

As per the proposal, two vessels would be imported from the foreign vendor for about Rs 2,300 crore, a cost that covers technology transfer to build the remaining six vessels at the Goa Shipyard Ltd (GSL).

The deal has been stuck for long because of allegations of involvement of middlemen and the new government had sought an opinion from Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi.

He has now opined that the tender conditions have been violated.

Now with this opinion in hand, the government will take its next course of action soon.

"The issue might come up in the next meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council," a source said.

Vendors have to sign a pre-contract integrity pact stating that there will be no middlemen involved.

The Korean firm, Kangnam Corporation, was shorlisted during UPA's tenure as it was a cheaper price of total three firms that had bid for the proposal floated in 2008.

According to available information, Navy is down to just seven aging Karwar and Pondicherry-class of minesweepers for both the east and west coasts, which were inducted in the 1980s.

While one of the minesweepers is to retire soon, the other six will have to be phased out over the next few years.

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