In a significant move deepening their defence and security cooperation, India and Maldives Sunday signed a pact to “develop, support and maintain a Maldives National Defence Force Coast Guard Harbour” for maritime security in the region.
The project is seen as key to India’s and Maldives’s strategic interests, particularly given Beijing’s increasing footprint in the Indian Ocean Region. Announcing the pact, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who is on a visit to Maldives, tweeted, “Glad to sign with Defence Minister @MariyaDidi the UTF Harbour Project agreement. Will strengthen Maldivian Coast Guard capability and facilitate regional HADR ( Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) efforts. Partners in development, partners in security.”
The dockyard to be developed at the Uthuru Thila Falhu (UTF) Naval Base, a few miles northwest of Male, will strengthen the Maldivian defence capabilities. The agreement was part of the defence action plan signed in 2016 by then President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom during a visit to India.
India will also support development of other infrastructure needed for the harbour, support the development of communications resources and radar services, and provide training.
Maldives Defence Minister Mariya Didi tweeted, “From time immemorial Defence Cooperation has been a key element of the sisterly relationship that exists between India and the Maldives. The Coast Guard Harbour & Dockyard at SIFAVARU will mark another significant milestone.”
According to the joint statement, the pact was signed pursuant to the request by the Government of Maldives in April 2013 for India’s support and cooperation in enhancing the capability of the Maldives Defence Forces in maritime surveillance, and subsequent requests in October 2015 and March 2016.
The joint statement also made a mention of the Action Plan for Defence Cooperation signed in April 2016 between the two countries, Defence Cooperation Dialogues in July 2016 and January 2019, and Joint Staff Talks in June 2018, January 2019, June 2019, and September 2019 — leading up to the pact.
Officials said the Maldives Coastguard needs a designated harbour and dockyard to repair and dock vessels. It attends to over 700 distress calls and conducts approximately 300 operations on an annual basis, apart from handling transnational crimes and conducting medical evacuations.
During his visit, Jaishankar met Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih; Speaker of the Peoples’ Majlis, former President Mohamed Nasheed; Foreign Minister Abdullah Shahid; Finance Minister Ibrahim Ameer; Minister of Economic Development Fayyaz Ismail; and Minister of National Planning, Housing and Infrastructure Mohamed Aslam.
Jaishankar also witnessed the signing of a project execution contract for construction of roads in Addu, the second-largest urban area in the Maldives in terms of population. “Underscores the importance of connectivity in our Maldives partnership,” he tweeted.
After meeting President Solih, Jaishankar reaffirmed India’s fullest commitment as a comprehensive development partner of the island nation, including during Covid-19. On Saturday, he handed over 100,000 additional Covid-19 vaccine doses to Maldives.
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