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Legacy of Shipbuilding as a Compass



Indian Shipbuilding has a multi-millennia legacy commonly ascribed from the Harappan age Reed Boats to modern mega projects in the form of IAC – Vikrant or nuclear submarines. The great maritime icon, Vice Admiral MP Awati, and Professor B Arunachalam undertook seminal work on indigenous boat building heritage in the late 1990s. This piece captures a quick summary of what was shared at a webinar by Kanhoji Angre Maritime Research Institute and Dept of Civics and Politics, University of Mumbai on 10 December 2021. The proceedings of the full webinar are available on the KAMRI YouTube Channel.


Reed Boats are a challenge to the classical physics of floatation. They were built on the principle of wash through self-buoyancy. Reeds had to be harvested by August before the arrival of Monsoon. This technology is still used in South America. When the English moved from Surat to Mumbai, they began creating Bombay Dockyard and brought the famed Wadia family. Lowjee Nasoorwanjee Wadia became the master craftsman and created some marvels including HMS Trincomalee. The Industrial revolution progress evaded colonised India amidst the transformation from sail & teak to steam & steel.

The resurgence of shipping and shipbuilding in independent India is symbolised through the saga of Mazagon Dock Yard Limited and Larsen & Toubro. The recent addition of INS Vela and INS Vishakhapatnam built by MDL have made them shipbuilders to the Nation. L&T is crucially involved in the Advanced Technology Vehicle Project that began from Arihant.


Amidst the technological advancements, the Indian coast presents a continuing story of traditional shipbuilding. The Dhows built at Rukmavati River at Mandvi, Gujarat, the Urus built on the River Chaliyam in Beypore, Kerala and the Kattumaram (catamaran) & Thonis of Tamil Nadu are a fascinating work of art. They cry aloud for patronage, sustenance, and recognition.


The way forward in India emerging as a world leader in shipbuilding can be built on Maritime India Vision 2030 (released in March 2021) to become the top 10 in the world in shipbuilding. Integrating with India’s promise to the world to achieve net-zero carbon by 2070 at the recent COP 26 conference, the scenario screams for leadership in Green Shipbuilding by 2070. The focus must be on young technology-fueled minds who will be technocrats and leaders of the coming decades. and that can give proper scope to go upwards in the direction of Green-shipping. Indian knowledge and ethos of tradition and modernity are expected to fuel the drive to the emerging legacy.


Do watch the full talk here ...



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