A 74 Sagardhwani Class
A project for design and construction of a marine acoustic research ship together with scientific equipment was sanctioned in October 1987 at an estimated cost of Rs 45 crores. A contract for construction and delivery of the ship by June 1991 at a cost of Rs 36.45 crores was awarded to a PSU in March 1988. Another contract for scientific equipment was awarded to the PSU on cost plus basis in October 1989. The prosperity of any nation is also linked with the optimal exploitation of its maritime assets. This, in turn, is interwoven with technological independence which dictates the ability to utilise assets for nation building and national security. With a coastline extending over 7,500 km and an Exclusive Economic Zone of about 2 million square km, India has a platter full of unlimited opportunities to savour from.
The Naval Physical and Oceanographic Laboratory (NPOL) was set up in 1953 as an arm of the Defence Research and Development Organisation with an aim to gather scientific data from underwater. For several years, the scientists toiled with a lengthy charter of scientific targets with ships requisitioned from the Navy or Shipping Corporation of India. However, the absence of a dedicated marine research platform severely hampered their efforts. Hence, an indigenous Marine Acoustic Research Ship (MARS) was conceptualised in the 1980s by Dr VK Aatre, who recently retired as Scientific Advisor to Defence Minister and Director General, DRDO.
The order for building the ship was evantually placed with GRSE, Kolkata, in 1988. Due to delay in finalisation of critical pre-launch equipment and large number of changes made in the design of the ship, the construction was delayed by two years. The ship was commissioned in July 1994, after a delay of 37 months. In order to meet the additional cost due to escalation, exchange rate variations, additional items and statutory levies, the revised cost of Rs 63 crores was approved in May 1994. Till March 1995, a sum of Rs 62.41 crores had been paid to the PSU.
Although the ship had been commissioned after a considerable delay on 30 July 1994, it had not been deployed for any research work due to a number of defects. The ship was due for refit and guarantee repairs from June 1995 which was estimated to cost Rs 3.63 crores. The laboratory stated, in July 1995, that it expected to deploy the ship for research by December 1995.
At the outset, the ship was primarily employed for collecting data and studying propagation of sound underwater. The ship undertook a series of missions to understand the behaviour of sound around the peninsula, enabling NPOL to build a database of the noise propagation pattern. With the passage of time, Sagardhwani changed her role from merely being an acoustic research ship to a multifarious tasking ship. She was also tasked to track the monsoon clouds, photograph the seabed and collect samples from the sea bottom.
Having completed a decade of its collection of scientific data in 2004, this versatile ship has so far undertaken nearly 80 scientific missions, covering areas from Lakshadweep Islands on the West to Andaman and Nicobar Islands on the Eastern edges of the country's maritime boundaries. The data collected by the ship has been utilised by the scientific community to understand the behaviour of the ever-evasive sonic rays. In 1999, she played a key role in Bobmex (Bay of Bengal Monsoon Exercise) which required the ship to study the monsoon patterns on the East Coast. Sagardhwani has also successfully deployed acoustic buoys in shallow as well as deep seas, a feat widely recognised at the world level.
With each successful mission, the unique ship has evolved into a valuable asset for the scientific community and the nation. The variegated tasking as well as departure of the ship from its primary role has, however, frequently precipitated the need for procuring more such specialised ships, particularly, for dedicated weapons and sensor trials. Such a development would lighten the load on MARS and permit her to devote herself exclusively to missions which require the ship to cover a vast area in future years. Successful completion of this project would be a landmark achievement in marine research.
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