Delhi pushes Indian Ocean ‘neighbourhood first’ policy

Reinforcing the ‘neighbourhood first’ policy and boosting New Delhi’s role as the provider of security net in the Indian Ocean Region, the Modi government in the past week has come to the rescue of two southern neighbours — Sri Lanka and Maldives – in the time of distress.

But it was not just relief operations for neighbours. India’s outreach to Sri Lanka and Maldives also coincided with the visit of the Prime Minister of Mauritius – yet another key Indian Ocean country – to Delhi as part of Indian Ocean diplomacy at a time when China is making forays in the region. On the occasion, Delhi and Port Louis concluded a wide-ranging maritime security pact that involves anti-piracy and disaster management cooperation.

While India and Mauritius share a robust naval cooperation, Colombo and Male are part of a trilateral security dialogue architecture involving Delhi.

Last week, away from the public glare, the Indian Navy was successful in rescuing Maldivian ship ‘MV Maria 3’ which suffered propulsion failure and was drifting on the sea with no controls for five days. The ship had six sailors on board, including those from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives.

The Maldivian ship lost contact with shore after its departure from Male on May 15, following which the Maldivian Coast Guard sought Indian Navy’s help in search and rescue operation.

A Dornier aircraft of the Indian Navy, capable of undertaking multiple roles, was deployed to Maldives at short notice to assist the Maldivian Coast Guard in the search and rescue operation. The Dornier had located the drifting ‘overdue’ ship about 150 nautical miles south-east of Male, with all survivors safe on board, during the aerial surveillance on May 20, officials said.

Subsequently, Indian Naval warship INS Kirch was informed and the Maldivian vessel was towed back to Male.

Within seven days of this rescue operation, INS Kirch was dispatched to Sri Lanka to render assistance to the flood victims.

INS Kirch, with emergency relief supplies, arrived at the Port of Colombo Saturday to assist the ongoing disaster relief efforts for communities affected by the extreme weather in Sri Lanka. The consignment of relief materials have been shipped to Sri Lanka on the directives of the Indian prime minister, who visited the island state mid-May on his maiden trip abroad this year.

INS Kirch, which was patrolling in the Bay of Bengal, was diverted to Sri Lanka with essential commodities including dry rations, bottles of drinking water, makeshift shelters and medicine. High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, handed over these relief supplies to the Sri Lanka’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ravi Karunanayake, at the Colombo port.

A relief team has also been dispatched on board INS Kirch to swiftly engage in rescue missions in flood affected areas.

INS Shardul, with medical relief kits and diving teams, left from Kerala’s Kochi port on Saturday morning to reinforce relief operation for the flood affected. INS Jalashwa will sail out from Visakhapatnam with HADR (Humanitarian Assistance Disaster Relief) stores including victualing, clothing, medicines and water. The ship will also carry medical and diving teams along with Gemini crafts and helicopters.

“The Indian Navy’s swift action is a testimony to the fact that India is net security provider in the region which will come to rescue of its neighbours in real time, unlike China, even as it has invested heavily in both Lanka and Maldives,” an expert on the Indian Ocean Region told ET. (Economic Times)

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