India, Vietnam conduct naval exercise in South China Sea  |  Photo Credit: PTI
New Delhi: An Indian Navy warship undertook a “passage exercise” with the Vietnamese Navy in the South China Sea as part of efforts to boost maritime cooperation between the two countries, an official statement said on Sunday.
Indian naval ship INS Kiltan was sent to deliver relief material for flood-affected people in central Vietnam and it participated in the exercise on Saturday on its return journey, it said.
The exercise has been conducted at a time when China has been expanding its military assertiveness in the South China Sea notwithstanding mounting global concerns and criticism.
“Passage exercise PASSEX (carried out) between Indian Navy and Vietnam People’s Navy on December 26, 2020. Reinforcing maritime interoperability and jointness,” the Indian Navy tweeted on Sunday.
INS Kiltan had arrived at the Nha Rhang port of Ho Chi Minh City last Thursday with 15 tonnes of relief materials for the flood-affected people of central Vietnam.
The defence ministry had on Thursday said the ship would undertake a passage exercise with the Vietnam People’s Navy in the South China Sea on its departure from Ho Chi Minh City.
More than 230 people died in central Vietnam due to the floods that ravaged the region in October-November this year.
Last Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a virtual summit with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc during which both the sides vowed to boost overall defence and security cooperation including in the maritime sphere.
In the wake of growing military muscle-flexing by China in the South China Sea region, the two leaders specifically reaffirmed the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.
The defence ministry had also said on Thursday that the disaster relief assistance sent by India to Vietnam is reflective of the deep people-to-people connection between the two friendly countries.
It said the relief materials will be handed over to Vietnam’s central steering committee for national disaster prevention and control.
Vietnam, an important country of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), has territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea region.
India has oil exploration projects in the Vietnamese waters in the South China Sea.
China claims sovereignty over all of the South China Sea, a huge source of hydrocarbons. However, several ASEAN member countries, including Vietnam, Philippines and Brunei, have made counter claims.