Naval facility built with India's help will boost maritime security: Maldives
Maldivian foreign minister Abdulla Shahid said information-sharing and cooperation in security between like-minded countries helps prevent “major catastrophes”.
NEW DELHI: The development of a key naval facility in the Maldives with Indian help will end the practice of sending vessels abroad for maintenance and improve the archipelago’s maritime security capabilities, Maldivian foreign minister Abdulla Shahid has said.
Work on developing the harbour at Uthuru Thila Falhu base under a bilateral agreement is ongoing and the project is aimed at creating a hub for maintenance of vessels, Shahid said in an interview. He dismissed criticism of bilateral security cooperation, saying this was the work of elements whose interests are affected by such collaboration.
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“The Maldives being a large ocean state, with our borders very porous, we need an effective surveillance and maritime operations, an effective Coast Guard. We do not have a proper hub to do the required maintenance of our boats. Every time, there needs to be maintenance or repair work, [the boat] has to be either taken to Sri Lanka or India,” Shahid said about the development of the Coast Guard base.
“So, this facility would give us the required harbour facility to attend to such work,” he said, adding Maldivian personnel will be trained as part of the project. Besides strengthening the country’s capabilities, the Maldives is “making sure that our maritime security regiment is strengthened”, he added.
Asked about criticism from some quarters about India-Maldives collaboration in defence, Shahid said information-sharing and cooperation in security between like-minded countries helps prevent “major catastrophes”. The biggest challenge to criminal gangs, narco-terrorists, mercenaries, terror groups and non-state actors trying to undermine the sovereignty of small states comes from such cooperation, he said.
“So, people try to target international cooperation because it is threatening their thinking, their way of life – which is undermining security, which is the deep state, which is terrorism, which is piracy, which is trafficking of narcotics. When their trade is challenged, yes, I expect criticism,” Shahid said.
In 2021, India extended a $50-million line of credit to the Maldives for defence projects and the two sides signed a pact to develop the harbour at Uthuru Thila Falhu. In the absence of a navy, the Coast Guard functions as the armed maritime component of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), which has received patrol vessels and maritime surveillance aircraft from India.
The Maldives is one of the biggest beneficiaries of India’s “Neighbourhood First” policy and Shahid lauded development assistance from New Delhi for being “very transparent”.
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“The processes are transparent, the execution is transparent and the projects that come out are also transparently seen,” he said, listing projects such as the Greater Male Connectivity Project, redevelopment of Hanimadoo airport and a cancer hospital being built at Hulhumale.
Many people have benefited from smaller projects to provide fresh water, build community centres and improve roads. “When we came into office, only 30% of the country had fresh water and proper sewerage. At the end of these five years, all the islands in the Maldives will have proper fresh water and proper sewage,” he said.
“Many projects that are grassroots level [are] impacting the lives of people. So, the way in which India has reached out to the Maldives is very, very much appreciated.”
Shahid, however, cautioned that bilateral ties should not be taken for granted. “Because there are individuals, groups of people who would want to undermine this special relationship...the groups of people who are non-state actors, would very much like to undermine this relationship because in the Indian Ocean, all this is in a very strategic location,” he said.
“Creating instability in the Maldives works into the hands of such groups of people. But now with a strong leadership in the Maldives, no such group will be able to have their way in the Indian Ocean,” he added.