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Maldives decision to renew Hydro-graphic Survey pact is a jolt to Indian Maritime strategy


New Pro-China President Muizzu is implementing ‘ Out' programme one by one

By Girish Linganna

Speaking at a conference held at the Maldives President's Office after a Cabinet meeting on Thursday (December 14, 2023), Maldives' Under Secretary for Public Policy, Mohamed Firuzul, said that the archipelagic nation would not renew the earlier government's agreement on the Third Joint Hydrographic Survey of Maldives' waters signed with India on June 8, 2019.

That was the time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was visiting the Maldives at the invitation of then President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. The agreement allowed India to study and chart reefs, lagoons, coastlines, ocean currents and tide levels while conducting a hydrographic survey of the Maldives' territorial waters. This is the first bilateral agreement that the Maldives' newly elected government is rescinding.

A hydrographic survey is the science of measurement and description of features affecting maritime navigation, marine construction, dredging, offshore wind farms, offshore oil exploration and drilling and related activities. Ships carry out hydrographic surveys in a country's territorial waters to study various features of a water body using such methods as sonar. Traditionally, it was ships that used to conduct such surveys with a sounding line (or through echo sounding). But, nowadays, these surveys are being conducted by means of aircraft and sophisticated electronic sensor systems in shallow waters.

The US Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says such surveys help map out the depth of the waters, shape of the seafloor and coastline, location of likely obstructions and physical features of water bodies for ensuring efficient and safe maritime transportation. Surveys are, often, also conducted to gauge the route of undersea cables—such as those used for telecommunications or ones associated with wind farms and HVDC power cables.

The Indian Naval Ship (INS) Darshak conducted the First Joint Hydrographic Survey in February and March 2021. The second survey was carried out by the INS Sutlej from April 18 to May 24, 2022. The Third Hydrographic Survey by the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) and Indian Navy was carried out by Indian Naval Ship Investigator (INS Investigator) from January 19 to February 26, 2023, when it examined northern Maldives covering the Thiladhanmatee and Ihavandhippolhu atolls and GallandhuKandu. Even before the agreement was signed, Indian Navy ships have been making several trips across the Maldives for the survey since 2018.

Firuzul announced that Muizzu's Cabinet—as well as the President—wanted to keep information and data about the country's territorial waters secure within the country and that the government was looking at building the capacity for such exercises in the armed forces (MNDF). He added that allocations would be made for developing resources to carry out such activities within the MNDF.

The decision comes barely two and a half months after Mohamed Muizzu, 45, of the People's National Congress (PNC), was elected as the President of Maldives on September 30, 2023, riding on his pledge of putting into effect the country's ‘India Out' policy. Muizzu had come to power as a proxy for a China-friendly predecessor, Abdulla Yameen, who was ousted by Solih in 2018 and later convicted of money-laundering and sentenced to five years in jail.

Before coming to power, Muizzu had created a campaign buzz around his promise to evict Indian troops from the archipelagic nation. When India's Minister for Earth Sciences, Kiren Rijiju, called on President Muizzu representing India at Muizzu's inauguration ceremony held on November 17, the President had brought up the issue of Indian military personnel present in the Maldives for operating aircraft for emergency evacuations on medical grounds, disaster relief operations and countering drug-trafficking activities. Muizzu, however, had then proclaimed that he would achieve his ends through peaceful and diplomatic means.

India holds key maritime interests in the archipelagic nation, one of its significant neighbours in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and ties between the two countries—mainly in defence and security—have been on the upswing over the past few years. There are currently around 77 Indian military personnel, besides two HAL Dhruv helicopters and Dornier 228 maritime patrol aircraft stationed in the Maldives. India has also assisted the Maldives in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and the adverse effects of climate change.

Prime Minister Modi had his maiden meeting with President Muizzu on the sidelines of the COP28 Climate Action Summit in Dubai on December 1, 2023. They had discussed ways to boost India-Maldives relations across different sectors, such as economic relations, development cooperation and people-to-people ties. The Maldives is India's key maritime neighbour in the IOR and occupies a special place in the Prime Minister's vision of ‘SAGAR' (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and India's ‘Neighbourhood First Policy'. (IPA Service)


(The author is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru.)





The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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