USNS Charles Drew

The JS Towada, left, and USNS Charles Drew in 2021. 

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CHENNAI, India — In a first-of-its-kind event, a U.S. Navy ship was repaired in India.

The USNS Charles Drew scripted a small bit of naval history as it entered the Larsen and Toubro shipyard in the southern city of Chennai last week, an event largely seen as a sign of deepening ties between the two countries.

The Charles Drew was docked at the L&T Kattupalli shipyard for overall maintenance. The ship, which is largely responsible for replenishing the food, fuel and spare parts for other Navy ships at sea, was to undergo so-called "voyage repair availability" services at the shipyard. A massive cargo vessel, it is manned by a 53-member crew and is capable of carrying over 6,600 tons of dry cargo.

According to the Ministry of Defence, Government of India, the Charles Drew was to undergo mending work at several places in the shipyard for about 11 days, after a similar contract was prepared and signed by the Navy and the Indian ministry.

New Delhi sees the contract as a considerable milestone in the course of the strategic relationship between India and the U.S.

India’s Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar, one of the dignitaries who welcomed the vessel, said that this collaboration makes it a red-letter day and highlights the maturity of the Indian shipbuilding industry.

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“We are indeed pleased to welcome U.S. naval ship USNS Charles Drew to India, for making her voyage ready,” he said. “India’s initiative also assumes special significance in furthering the strategic partnership between India and the U.S. It marks the beginning of a new chapter for deeper engagements,” Kumar said.

Kumar was accompanied by the vice chief of naval staff and the commanding flag officer of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry Naval Area, alongside senior officials of the Ministry of Defence and the U.S. Embassy of India.

Judith Ravin, the U.S. consul general of Chennai, reminisced the marine partnership of the two countries expressed at recent joint talks and said that the inaugural repairing of Drew will be a step toward the intentions affirmed by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin toward using Indian shipyards for repairing U.S. Navy vessels.

“This is a landmark development to be celebrated as a symbol of our strengthened U.S.-India partnership,” she added.

The ship is named after Dr. Charles Drew, a barrier-breaking African American surgeon.