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Indian warship anchors in Seychelles, key to New Delhi’s foothold in western Indian Ocean  

Indian Naval Ship Sunayna at Port Victoria in the capital city of Seychelles (All images courtesy: Indian Navy)

The Indian Navy is participating in a two-week exercise being conducted by the world’s largest multinational naval partnership, Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), in Seychelles, signalling New Delhi’s growing interest in the western Indian Ocean.

Indian Naval Ship (INS) Sunayna entered Port Victoria in the capital city of the archipelago of 115 islands which lies northeast of Madagascar on Saturday to participate in CMF’s annual training exercise ‘Operation Southern Readiness’.

“This not only reinforces Indian Navy’s commitment to maritime security in the Indian Ocean Region but also marks the maiden participation of an Indian Navy ship in CMF exercise,” a statement from the Defence Ministry said Monday.

CMF is leading the two-week mission in partnership with the Seychelles People’s Defence Force, European Union Naval Force, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and India which began partnering with CMF earlier this year.

Participating countries also include Australia, Canada, France, Italy, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United States as the navies work on strengthening regional collaboration and enhancing operational readiness.

SeychellesCMF consists of 34 member nations whose forces operate in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Northern Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.

“Seychelles is a strong regional maritime partner and we are very grateful for them hosting this new opportunity. We are also excited to work with other international partners, including India, to train and build capacity in a vibrant way,” said Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, Commander of US Naval Forces Central Command, US 5th Fleet and CMF.

The CMF nations said that they stand united in upholding international rules-based order to protect the free flow of commerce, ensure regional maritime security and deter illicit activity by non-state actors.

As two countries which face similar security challenges in the backdrop of the current global situation and growing security concerns in the Indian Ocean Region, India and Seychelles have increased defence cooperation over the past few years.

A file image of INS Teg, a stealth frigate of the Indian Navy, at Port Victoria (Image courtesy: Indian Navy)

India has handed over four fast patrol boats including PS Zoroaster and PS Topaz to Seychelles. It has also launched a Coastal Surveillance Radar Project in Seychelles. Besides, India has granted US $3.4 million, along with a 1-megawatt ground-mounted solar plant located on Romainville Island. The high-impact project is expected to produce enough electricity to serve around 400 households.

Broadening their cooperation towards co-existence in the Indo-Pacific Region, both countries have participated in wide-ranging maritime security, air surveillance, training and capacity building and antipiracy operations.

The 9th edition of the 10-day India-Seychelles Joint Training Exercise Lamitiye-2022 was held in March at the Seychelles Defence Academy which cemented mutual confidence, and interoperability and enabled sharing of best practices between the armed forces of the two countries.

“The biennial exercise is an important event in the defence cooperation between the two nations and it has contributed immensely in strengthening bilateral military cooperation and interoperability between both armies. The two militaries share a long history of friendship, mutual respect and understanding of each other,” Brigadier Michael Rosette, Chief of Defence Forces of SDF had stated earlier this year.

Strengthening cooperation amongst maritime neighbours to tackle the shared regional security challenges faced by countries in the Indian Ocean has been a top priority for National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval.

That India and Seychelles have a key role to play in securing the region by working together on a common platform was quite evident when its top security officials were invited to attend the India-led Colombo Security Conclave (CSC) in the Maldives, earlier this year.

In April, Indian Navy chief Admiral R Hari Kumar, on a tour of South West Indian Ocean Region, also visited Seychelles.

During the visit, the Chief of Naval Staff called on the country’s President Wavel Ramkalawan, Foreign Minister Sylvestre Radegonde, and Rosette to hold discussions on maritime security in the Indian Ocean Region and avenues to further strengthen bilateral defence cooperation.

Chief of Naval Staff Admiral R Hari Kumar with Seychelles President Wavel Ramkalawan, earlier this year

The CNS, who also served as the Naval Advisor to the Seychelles government in 2001-02, had also presented a navigation chart of Port Victoria, prepared by the National Hydrographic Office (NHO) of India, under the MoU on bilateral hydrographic cooperation.

“The interactions of the CNS at Seychelles set in motion a promising trajectory of further growth in the scale and scope of bilateral defence engagements, founded on the principles of SAGAR (Security And Growth for All in the Region) and the ‘Five S’ Vision of Sammaan (Respect) – Samvaad (Dialogue) – Sahyog (Cooperation) – Shanti (Peace) and Samriddhi (Prosperity) articulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” commented the Defence Ministry then.

Following Admiral Hari Kumar’s visit, Indian Naval Ship Gharial had called at Port Victoria in May – the successful deployments of the Indian Navy under Mission SAGAR further boosting the concept of ‘Collective Responsibility’ for maritime security in the IOR.

Also Read: Led by NSA Doval, South Asia Quad on maritime security takes shape in the Maldives