The Vanilla Islands of Reunion, Mayotte, Seychelles, Madagascar, Comoros, and Mauritius—all of which are perched atop important sea lines of communication and chokepoints— are playing an increasingly significant part in India’s geopolitical calculus.
Chief Admiral Hari Kumar presented his ideas last month at the Goa Maritime Conclave (GMC), one of the navy’s numerous multilateral initiatives aimed at bringing the 12 countries (Bangladesh, Comoros, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Myanmar, Seychelles, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand) of the IOR together under a cooperative maritime security framework administered by the Indian Navy.
In this context, Sputnik India spoke with Outam Kumar Guness, international liaison officer for Mauritius at the Regional Coordination Operational Centre (RCOCS) in the Seychelles, and Commodore R. S. Vasan (Retd), director general of the Chennai Centre for China Studies.
Maritime Security Issues In Vanilla Islands
“For the smallest island states fishing is their primary source of revenue, and the Indian Ocean is host to a substantial amount of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. In addition, as the famous Southern routes have altered and the Vanilla Islands are all used as entrance points for drug trans-shipment, the problem of drugs on the islands is especially relevant. At the same time, drugs are moving through the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of island states,” said Guness.
The Mauritius officer argued that similar to this, small island states grant licenses to large nations visiting the islands for fishing, allowing visitors to pay a nominal fee for the permit prior to fishing. However, due to a lack of resources, the small nations are unable to monitor, control, and regulate the fishing, which results in illicit fishing.
In the course of discussing how the authorities on the French island of Réunion repatriated Sri Lankan nationals who had attempted to enter the island illegally by sea earlier this year, the Mauritius officer imposed on another emerging issue: the movement of illegal migrants.
“This is a disaster for humanity rather than a law enforcement failure. Men, women, and children are illegally traveling from Sri Lanka to the southern coast by a fleet of small fishing boats known as IMULA fleets of vessels. At the same time, illegal migration is also particularly prevalent in the Mozambique Channel, an arm of the Indian Ocean that separates the countries of Madagascar and Mozambique in Southeast Africa,” said the Mauritius officer.
Absence of Legal Enforcement
Guness said illegal immigration, drug trafficking and fishing had turned fishing boats into a mode of transport in recent years. However, small island states suffer in such circumstances due to the lack of surveillance aircraft.
Another factor that further impacts the region is the lack of information sharing between governments, he added.
While addressing the absence of law enforcement mechanisms, the Mauritius officer highlighted yet another noteworthy issue: that the individuals who are apprehended by the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) or other foreign countries in possession of drugs and then freed often revert to their previous behavior. This happens as a result of lax enforcement of the law.
Significance of Vanilla Islands For India
“COVID-19 has contributed to a greater understanding of the significance of globalization, and the Vaccine Maitri drive by India has played a noteworthy role in this regard. The borders were closed when I visited the Seychelles, and India supplied a significant number of people with vaccines to aid the small nation’s states,” Guness noted.
He added that after the Mumbai attack, Vanilla received a coastal surveillance radar (CSR) with Indian help.
Delhi contributes significantly to Vanilla Island states’ maritime security even when there are no formal financial agreements in place.
Vasan further stated that this assistance takes the form of thorough hydrographic surveys, frequent aerial and surface-based surveillance of the nation’s large EEZ, and defence against illicit maritime activities such as IUU fishing, irregular maritime migration and other types of maritime crime.
Humanitarian Assistance To Line of Credit
In situations requiring humanitarian assistance and disaster relief such as tsunamis or water crises, India has proven its capabilities and ability to act as a first responder for the Vanilla Islands.
India plays a significant role in helping numerous island states overcome emerging maritime difficulties (through guidance or consultation, surveillance or monitoring systems,” Vasan noted.
Benefit of Indian Diaspora To Vanilla Islands
According to Vasan, the Indian Ocean has become a theatre of power struggle, and each country has its own interests. However, the fact that the Indian diaspora creates an environment conducive to Indian investment gives India an edge over other countries in this area.
“Mauritius, with whom India has close historical and commercial relations, acts as a conduit for Indian investment in Africa. Mauritius accounts for more than 70% of India’s FDI inflows. Similar to Réunion, the Seychelles present a plethora of business prospects for Indian enterprises, hence expanding bilateral trade between these nations,” said Vasan.
While discussing India’s maritime security interests, Vasan stated that Mayotte and the Comoros are crucial due to their close proximity to East Africa and major shipping lanes. These nations benefit from a large expatriate population that makes intelligence sharing, combined military drills, and collaboration against piracy and other maritime threats, of key importance.