New Delhi, July 19 (Calcutta Tube) Consolidating its security ties in the strategic southern Indian Ocean, India Monday vowed to help conduct maritime safety operations in the Seychelles and give the archipelago nation three aircraft for surveillance in the region that is plagued by the threats of increasing piracy in and around the Gulf of Aden.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony, who is on a two-day trip to the country, made the promise during his meeting with Seychelles President James Alix Michel, a defence spokesperson said here.
‘On a specific request from Seychelles, Antony agreed to provide, at the earliest, one new Dornier and two Chetak helicopters from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for maritime surveillance,’ the spokesperson said.
Although the normal delivery time is 18 to 24 months, Antony assured that India will try ‘to supply the aircraft in 15 months’.
‘During this period, India will provide an in-service Dornier aircraft to carry out maritime surveillance (in the region),’ the spokesperson said.
Antony is in the Seychelles for a two-day trip that began Sunday for talks on strengthening India’s strategic ties in the southern Indian Ocean where Chinese interests for naval activism is growing rapidly.
The visiting Indian minister had a series of meetings with Seychelles Vice President Danny Faure, Home Minister Joel Morgan and Foreign Minister Jean Paul Adam in the country’s largest island of Mahe, which accommodates 90 percent of the nation’s total population of about 84,000.
The spokesperson said the India and Seychelles also agreed to ‘take forward their cooperation to tackle the spread of piracy in the Indian Ocean region’, the spokesperson said.
‘On the request of the Seychellois leadership, India also agreed to extend help for maritime and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) surveillance operations and capacity building of its forces,’ the spokesperson said.
Antony, in his talks with the Seychellois leadership, remarked that the problem of piracy in the Gulf of Aden ‘affects all countries of the world’ and shared the concerns of Seychelles on the increasing reach of the pirates.
‘This is a problem which calls for cooperation among all countries. The Indian Ocean links us all and is critical for our economic interests. We must cooperate to ensure peace and stability in this region’, he said.
Antony reiterated India’s assurance, as conveyed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during President Michel’s visit to India early June for continued cooperation in all fields particularly in the field of defence and security.
Manmohan Singh had announced a $5 million assistance package for defence related projects in the Seychelles.
Antony said the Indian Navy will also make additional visits this year to conduct surveillance and hydrographic surveys in the region.
Seychelles navy personnel would be allowed on board Indian Navy ships for maintenance training and conduct drills and exercises. Antony also agreed to offer help for capacity building of the Seychelles forces.
Antony’s trip, a first by any Indian defence minister, comes close on heels of the visit by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna earlier this month.
In June, President Michel was in India to discuss security issues, including the maritime security situation in the Indian Ocean region, particularly in the context of the spread of piracy in and around the Gulf of Aden.
The visit signals the importance India was attaching to the island state on the sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean.
India had signed a defence cooperation pact with the Seychelles in 2003 and has been providing training and equipment to the forces of the country.
The Indian Navy also makes frequent port calls in the nation of some 150 islands.
Strategic experts in India suggest that New Delhi must develop a sustainable relationship and assist the smaller states of the Indian Ocean region.