Why India’s ship-repair facilities are all at sea

Amrita Nair Ghaswalla Mumbai | Updated on January 08, 2018 Published on October 15, 2017


Shipyards in India have lost out again to repair two US Navy warships that recently met with fatal accidents. Even as some leading private shipyards and defence PSU shipyards have been entrusted in the past with repair activities of foreign ships, India’s ship-repair facilities have fallen woefully short.

The American guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald, which collided with a merchant vessel off the coast of Japan did not make its way to India for repairs, and neither has another guided-missile destroyer, USS John S McCain, damaged in a collision with a merchant tanker entering the Singapore Strait.

Both the vessels were pierced beneath the waterline by the merchant ships that struck them. The USS Fitzgerald also suffered damage to her superstructure, as well as to the main combat system, the SPY radar, which enables the vessel to track supersonic cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.

While the US Navy’s damaged destroyer USS Fitzgerald is to be repaired at Huntington Ingalls Industries’ shipyard in Mississippi, the US Navy has decided to repair USS John S McCain at Yokosuka, Japan, rather than bring the ship back to the US .

“Though shipyards in India have never been strong contenders for repair amidst global competition, our shipyards were among naval contenders from other countries to undertake repairs of the USS Fitzgerald, which is part of the US Navy’s 7th Fleet,” said an official with a defence PSU shipyard.

Alluding to a recent agreement signed by a private shipyard to undertake complex repair and alteration works of warships from the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet, the official said other private shipyards have also been entrusted with the task of repair and restoration of US Navy vessels.

India has played host to warships from the US Navy visiting an Indian shipyard for repair.

Chidambaram Shipcare, headquartered in Chennai, is one such shipyard. It has a workshop inside the Chennai Port, and has another workshop at Sewri in Mumbai, near the Mumbai Port and Mazagon Dock Ltd.

The company has undertaken several US Navy repairs such as USS Okane, deployed to the 7th Fleet area of operation supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, and has carried out repairs to the USS Emillius, USS Cushing, USS Gary, USS Cowpen, and USS Boxer, among others.

Ship-repair units

An official with Chidambaram Shipcare pointed out that along with defence shipyards, there were 35 ship-repair units in the country. “Other Asian countries, notably Japan, Singapore and even Sri Lanka have moved aggressively bagging many foreign ship-repair orders. India has inadequate infrastructural support services needed for ship repair,” the official added.

Time delays and increase in cost overruns were other handicaps. “The shipyard where ship owners are likely to send their ships for repairs primarily depends on the overall cost of repairs, though there are only 3-4 Indian yards engaged in any meaningful ship-repair activity,” he said.

Lamenting the lack of adequate government support to the ship-repair industry, the official said even ships owned by government agencies tend to choose foreign countries to carry out repairs instead of supporting Indian shipyards.

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Published on October 15, 2017
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