TAG: GS 2: INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
THE CONTEXT: The Maldives government has decided to not renew an agreement with India that allowed India to conduct hydrographic surveys in Maldivian waters.
- The agreement was signed in 2019 during Indian Prime Minister’s visit to the islands. Various MoUs were signed during the visit, including one for Cooperation in the Field of Hydrography between the Indian Navy and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).
- The new government of Maldives had earlier requested that India should pull out its military personnel deployed in the country.
- Hydrographic surveys are carried out by ships, which use methods such as sonar to understand the various features of a water body.
- According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), these surveys help
- Map out water depth
- Shape of the seafloor and coastline
- Location of possible obstructions
- Physical features of water bodies to ensure the efficiency and safety of maritime transportation.
Hydrographic survey pact:
- The first meeting of the Joint Commission on Hydrography was held in the Maldives in September 2019.
- So far, three joint hydrographic surveys have been undertaken – in 2021, 2022, and 2023.
- The Indian Naval Ship (INS) Darshak carried out the first Joint Hydrographic survey in February and March of 2021.
- The second Joint Hydrographic survey was carried out by the INS Sutlej from April 18 to May 24, 2022. During the period, the ship surveyed Northern Maldives and the Male area including Thilafushi, Hulhumale and Male port on the request of the Government of Maldives.
- Multi-beam echo sounders were used. The surveys were done to generate updated Navigational Charts/ Electronic Navigational Charts of the areas, which would help sectors such as Tourism, Fisheries, Agriculture, etc.
- Training was also imparted to MNDF personnel on the use of survey equipment. India said it would train more MNDF personnel at its Hydrographic Institute in Goa.
- The third survey was conducted between January and February 2023, by INS Investigator. It identified 52 new shoals, which are emerging ridge-like natural structures in the sea, within the Ihavandhippolhu atoll.
Water survey pacts with other countries:
- India’s oldest Hydrographic Survey ship, INS Sandhayak, was decommissioned in 2021.
It undertook more than 200 major hydrographic surveys along the Western and Eastern coasts of the Indian peninsula, and the Andaman Sea, as well as surveys in neighbouring countries including Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.
- The government has previously cited a UN study that says approximately 50 per cent of coastal states have no hydrographic capability and another 25 per cent have only limited capabilities. Only the remaining 25 per cent, including India, have adequate hydrographic capabilities.
- National Hydrographic Office’s website states “There is, immense scope for international co-operation in hydrography, particularly, in Asia and Africa, where 36% and 64% of the waters respectively, are yet to be surveyed systematically.
- It says Indian survey ships have assisted Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Maldives, Oman, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Tanzania in the past.
So why does Maldives want to end the pact?
- Change of regime: There is change in regime in the country following the upcoming elections. Earlier President of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), who was in power from 2018 to 2023, was seen as being more favourable to India, but his successor of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) is being seen as more pro-China.
- China’s influence: While the Maldives has traditionally been a part of India’s sphere of influence. In recent decades China has sought to project its power aggressively in the Indian Ocean, including through massive investments in infrastructure projects as Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
- Self interest: Maldivian administration believes it is “best for national security to improve the Maldivian military’s capacity to conduct such surveys, and protect such sensitive information”.