Indian naval ships sail to South China Sea, to join Malabar exercise

New Delhi: Four ships of the Indian Navy on Wednesday set out for a two and a half month long deployment in the South China Sea and north west Pacific Ocean, and will be later participating in the Malabar joint naval exercise with the US and Japan off Okinawa island. The fleet consists of indigenous guided missile stealth frigates INS Satpura and Sahyadri, commanded by Captain A.N. Pramod and Captain K.S. Rajkumar respectively; INS Shakti, a sophisticated fleet support ship commanded by Captain Gagan Kaushal and INS Kirch, an indigenous guided missile corvette commanded by Commander Sharad Sinsunwal. The fleet is under the command of Rear Admiral S.V. Bhokare, flag officer commanding eastern fleet. During this deployment, the ships will make port calls at Cam Rahn Bay (Vietnam), Subic Bay (Philippines), Sasebo (Japan), Busan (South Korea), Vladivostok (Russia) and Port Klang (Malaysia). An official statement said the visits to each port will last for four days and are aimed at "strengthening bilateral ties and enhancing inter-operability between the navies". "During the stay in harbour, various activities such as official calls and professional interaction between naval personnel of both the nations have been planned. PASSEX (passage exercise) has also been planned at sea with the host navies," the statement said. The Malabar exercise is set to take place off the Okinawa island in Japan in the second half of June. The island is roughly 640 km south of Japan, around the same distance of the coast of China.