Meanwhile Maldives navy cadets join training with Indian navy squadron
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 28th Feb 18
In a rebuff that the Indian Navy is downplaying, the Maldives Islands have turned down an invitation to a gathering of Indian Ocean navies that the navy organises every other year in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
The event, called MILAN 2018, will be held in Port Blair from March 6-13. It will be attended by at least 16 navy delegations from Indo-Pacific littoral countries, including Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand Myanmar and Mauritius.
Maldives, one of the navy’s close maritime partners, has been a regular participant at MILAN, a week-long festival of discussions, band and cultural displays, sports events and cocktail parties, all to assert regional camaraderie.
But not this year, revealed navy chief, Admiral Sunil Lanba, in New Delhi today. Asked why Male had declined to send a delegation, Lanba replied tersely: “Maldives has not given any reason for the decision.”
While there is concern in New Delhi about Male drifting deeper into Beijing’s orbit, a senior admiral ascribes Male’s absence to political uncertainty caused by an on-going power tussle in that country, where pro-China president, Abdulla Yameen, has imposed emergency and imprisoned top opposition leaders, who are largely pro-India.
Yameen’s constitutional coup could be running out of steam. On Tuesday, his own health minister, Dunya Maumoon, resigned – the second minister to do so since the crisis began on February 1.
But close naval ties with Male continue, say top navy sources, pointing out that a number of Maldivian navy cadets began training this month with the Indian Navy.
The Maldivian cadets joined the navy’s 1st Training Squadron, which trains Indian and foreign cadets on six ships – Indian Naval Ships Tir, Sujata and Shardul; Indian Coast Guard Ship Varuna, and two Sail Training Ships -- Sudarshini and Tarangini.
Over the last four decades, the 1st Training Squadron has trained more than 13,000 cadets from over 40 countries, including many from the Maldives.
In its 24 week-long training course, navy and coast guard cadets learn how to operate warships and are exposed to the rigours of life at sea – “earning their sea legs”, in naval parlance.
Sri Lanka reassures India
Meanwhile, in New Delhi, Sri Lanka’s chief of defence staff, Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne, allayed Indian concerns about the Chinese presence in Hambantota, a port in southern Sri Lanka. “I can assure this forum that no action whatsoever will be taken in our harbours or in our waters which jeopardise India’s security concerns”, he said.
“Our honourable prime minister has very clearly said that the government will not enter into any military alliance with any country for making our bases available to foreign countries. Only Sri Lankan armed forces, and mainly Sri Lankan navy, will be responsible for security of Hambantota harbour and all other ports in our country,” he stated.
Addressing the Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue organised by the Indian Navy in New Delhi on Tuesday, Wijegunaratne also downplayed the visits by Chinese naval warships to Colombo port: “We had more than 65 foreign warships visiting Colombo harbour during last year from 14 different countries. Of course, the largest number is from India – 22 coast guard and Indian naval warships.”