In the final stages of a three-and-a-half month, two ocean goodwill and naval exercise mission, Indian Naval Ship (INS) Tarkash arrived in Table Bay Harbour, Cape Town, on Wednesday morning.
The relationship between India and South Africa dates back two centuries, with three Indian Navy ships visiting Cape Town and Durban in 1994 to welcome the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela.
INS Tarkash (F50) is the second of the three Teg-class stealth frigates acquired from Russia and was commissioned into Indian naval service in November 2012. Whist it is her first visit to South Africa, her two sister ships have visited Cape Town and Durban previously.
The current visit to Cape Town is a “flag showing mission” as part of a goodwill visit. Tarkash Commanding Officer, Captain Rituraj Sahu, notes that “there is a long standing cooperation between the two maritime nations and the presence of INS Tarkash is to further this relationship.”
“It seeks to underscore India’s solidarity with friendly and like-minded countries towards ensuring good order in the maritime domain and to strengthen the existing bonds of friendship between India and South Africa,” he continued.
Although no at-sea exercises with the South African Navy are planned, the crew of Tarkash will interact with SA Navy members via sporting and cultural activities. The two Indian Ocean navies will also make use of this opportunity to have mutual discussions on operations.
Tarkash is a part of the Indian Navy’s Western Fleet, based at Mumbai on the West Coast of India. The ship departed her home port on 5 April 2017 for the long range deployment to the Mediterranean, North Atlantic and West Coast of Africa. During her deployment, Tarkash has already made port calls at Souda Bay (Greece), Plymouth and London (UK), Lisbon (Portugal), Casablanca (Morocco), Lagos (Nigeria), Luanda (Angola) and Walvis Bay (Namibia).
Indian naval assets have been increasingly deployed in recent times to address the main maritime concerns of the region, including piracy, off the coast of Somalia. Only a few days into her current mission, on 9 April, Tarkash participated in support of an antihijacking operation onboard the bulk carrier MV OS-35 in the Gulf of Aden.
Sahu retold the story to defenceWeb, explaining that they were in transit off the coast of Yemen when they received a distress call from the merchant vessel: “Three skiffs were chasing it and as we were in the area, we proceeded at full speed, arriving in close proximity to the distressed vessel.”
The Indian warship established contact with the captain of the merchant vessel who, along with the crew, had locked themselves in a strong room on board whilst Tarkash, accompanied by the guided-missile destroyer INS Mumbai, arrived on scene. Besides the Indian naval vessels in attendance, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) guided missile frigate Yulin and warships from Pakistan and Italy also responded.
“So now it was a support mission for a distressed vessel at sea,” Sahu continued, “We were ready in all respects to send out a team, that is when we found that the pirates had fled the vessel, having seen some of the warships there.”
The Commanders of the various naval ships discussed the situation and decided which nation would be responsible for the various aspects of the rescue mission.
The Chinese navy sent a team of 18 men to sanitise the 178-metre merchant vessel, with the Indian Navy providing the communication link and air cover with its helicopters.
As Captain Manjit Thomas, the Indian Defence Advisor stationed in Pretoria said: “On the high seas, everybody is partners.”
Manned by 300 crew, the 125-metre-long, 3 700-tonne Tarkash carries a wide range of anti-ship, ant-air and anti-submarine weaponry, including the supersonic BrahMos missile, 100 mm naval gun, optically controlled 30 mm Close-In Weapon System, torpedoes and rockets. For her current mission, she has a Chetak naval helicopter embarked aboard.
The ship departs Cape Town on 24 June, with her next port of call being Port Louis in Mauritius. She is due back in Mumbai in mid-July.
Berthed at Quay 2, V&A Waterfront, the ship will be open for visitors on 22 and 23 June, from 10:00 to 16:00.