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First US navy ship arrives at Kattupalli port for repairs

USNS Salvor, docked at Larsen and Toubro Shipyard for voyage repairs, at Kaatupalli Port in Chennai, Monday, July 10, 2023. A PTI Photo

CHENNAI (PTI):  US Navy Ship Salvor, a Safeguard-class rescue and salvage ship, arrived at Larsen and Toubro's Kattupalli shipbuilding yard near here for repairs under the Master Ship Repair Agreement (MSRA) signed last month between India and the US, a senior official of L&T has  said.

The USNS Salvor was welcomed with a ceremony at the shipyard on Monday, and it is the first ship to arrive after the signing of the MSRA.

The five-year agreement will see India's leading private defence company repair the US vessels, said Executive Vice President and Head L&T Defence Arun Ramchandani.

The Military Sealift Command's rescue and salvage ship USNS Salvor (T-ARS 52) arrived at L&T Kattupalli shipyard for voyage repairs on July 9. It is the third US Navy ship visiting the L&T shipyard for voyage repairs, after USNS Charles Drew and USNS Matthew Perry. After the repair and maintenance is carried out, the vessel will resume its journey after a fortnight.

US Consul General in Chennai Judith Ravin, US Embassy New Delhi's Office of Defence Cooperation chief Captain Michael L Farmer, and senior US Embassy officials participated in the welcoming ceremony along with Ramchandani and others from L&T leadership.

"This Master Ship Repair Agreement is yet another milestone in our ever-expanding US-India partnership. This historic agreement is a direct outcome of the 2022 US-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue and demonstrates US's commitment to utilise repair facilities on a regular basis at the L&T shipyard in Kattupalli," Ravin said on the occasion.

This agreement will serve to strengthen the two nations' strategic partnership and contribute to a free and open Indo-Pacific, she said.

"During Prime Minister Modi's visit to the United States, he eloquently said that 'the scope of our cooperation is endless, and the chemistry of our relations is effortless,'" she recalled and added that the announcements made during Modi's official state visit set a marker and highlighted incredible potential.

The MSRA with L&T is the first such agreement in India, and it "is a symbol of our strengthened US-India partnership...," Ravin said, adding that the MSRA is a legally non-binding arrangement between the US Navy and private shipbuilding contractors to pre-approve shipyards to repair US Naval vessels.

The MSRA will fast-track US government contracting processes for repair work and advance the Indian government's indigenous production and logistics goals. With MSRA certification, the L&T Kattupalli shipyard may bid on US Navy and Military Sealift Command (MSC) ship repair contracts throughout the 7th Fleet area of responsibility, she added.

The Agreement is a demonstration of how the US Navy and Indian companies are better together for the advancement of collective maritime security. By partnering to deliver economical and effective repair of US Naval vessels, the shipping industries positively contributed to a free and open Indo-Pacific, the Consul General said.

"We are soon expecting President Biden's visit to India. That will make two highest-level summits between our countries in a time span of less than six months. We are committed to operationalising the US-India Major Defense Partnership through enhanced information sharing, regional security cooperation, defense trade, and cooperation in new domains. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of this MSRA and where our partnership may go in the future," Ravin added.

In an interaction with mediapersons, when Captain Farmer was asked if the Kattupalli yard will also take up the repair and servicing of US warships as well (and not just auxilliary vessels as per the agreement now), as it is strategically located, he replied, "The MSRA does not permit the repair of US Naval warships at present but would only take up upkeep. (It will also take up) crucial maintenance of other vessels. Both the governments could work in that direction in the future."

On speculation that the US was looking towards establishing a naval base in the Indian territory, he denied any such move but said, "It could be a possibility in the future if both governments came together."

Speaking on the occasion, Ramchandani said L&T has been able to deliver high-quality products and services to its customers. A large number of ships of the Indian Navy and Coast Guard have been repaired at Kattupalli yard. Besides, over 70 ships were constructed in a decade's time.

"Apart from the US Navy ships, considering the location, facilities, capabilities and destination other friendly countries have approached us for providing repair services for their ships," he said.

The US Navy had accorded the MSRA to L&T after having rigorously assessed various Indian shipyards. "This agreement will enable L&T to undertake bigger repairs and fits of US ships and auxiliary vessels," Ramchandani said.

Later, interacting with mediapersons, he said L&T Kattupalli was well equipped for future growth as the 1,000 acres of land available with it gives it the potential to grow within the facility.

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