New Delhi: In the backdrop of a terror strike at a key military base in the neighbouring nation, India on Wednesday asked its Navy to remain alert to meet emerging challenges in the Indian Ocean region and to maintain constant vigil in the wake of 'volatile' neighbourhood.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony, addressing the top brass of the Indian Navy here at their biannual commanders conference, also asked the force to 'take stock of the level of its operational preparedness' from time to time.

Heavily-armed terrorists had stormed into Karachi's PNS Mehran naval base Sunday night. The 15-hour siege ended Monday afternoon with 14 people, including four terrorists, being killed.

'The challenges of the Indian Ocean Rim (IOR) and the volatile neighbourhood we live in make it imperative for us to maintain operational readiness at all times. Recent incidents in our neighbourhood have strongly underlined the need to maintain constant vigil. The navy needs to take stock of the level of operational preparedness from time to time,' he added.

The defence minister, according to an official press release, spoke on a wide range of issues and challenges that face the Indian Navy. 

Describing piracy as 'a continuing cause of major concern,' Antony said the menace needed 'a concerted effort and a collective response' from the international community.

While assuring the sea-faring nations that the Indian Navy would continue to work with all navies operating in the Gulf of Aden, he ruled out India becoming a member of any multilateral groupings 'unless these are under a UN mandate.'

Turning to coastal security, Antony noted that the government had made considerable progress in 'plugging the gaps' but 'a lot more still needs to be done'.

He said various agencies needed to adopt 'a far more collaborative and cooperative approach'.

Noting that strengthening coastal security was inextricably linked to the security of island territories, he called for drawing up a long-term strategic plan to enhance the security of both the Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep island chains.

'The government has accorded approval for forward naval bases at Tuticorin, Kamarta, Diglipur, Campbell Bay and Paradeep,' he pointed out.

Referring to the modernisation of the navy, Antony said the government was fully committed to achieve the goal, adding that 34 ships and submarines are in various stages of construction at different Indian shipyards.

He also said that a large number of contracts have been concluded for acquisition of aircraft, destroyers, fleet tankers, jet trainers, missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles and radars for the maritime forces of the country.

(Agencies)