India, Seychelles agree to lease Assumption Island for ‘infrastructure development’

Victoria(PTI): India will be leasing the Assumption Island, one of the 115 islands that constitute the Seychelles.On paper, the island will be leased for ‘island development’ for tourism purposes, but in actuality, it could be put to use as a listening and surveillance post. This arrangement is similar to that with the Mauritius authorities.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is currently on a day long visit to the Seychelles, spoke of the agreements signed between the two sides with respect to Assumption Island. “Our agreement today on the development of infrastructure in the Assumption Island gives a strong boost to this partnership,” Prime Minister Modi said here.

“President Michel and I underlined the importance of comprehensive cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region. We expressed support for a more active and productive Indian Ocean Rim Association. Our development partnership is also a strong pillar of our relations,” he added. Prime Minister Modi also spoke of the ‘unique’ and ‘special’ relationship between India and Seychelles.

“We regard Seychelles as a vital partner in our Indian Ocean neighbourhood. Our relationship is unique and special. It is founded on deep sense of mutual trust and confidence. It is marked by a spirit of respect and equality; and enormous goodwill and warmth. It draws strength from our shared values of democracy and inclusiveness. It is nurtured by a common purpose – progress of our people and peace and prosperity in the Indian Ocean Region,” he said.

“Seychelles has made impressive progress. It has shown that size is no barrier to the scale of achievements. This visit and my conversation with President Michel have reinforced my conviction in the strength and the importance of this relationship. Our security partnership is strong. It has enabled us to fulfil our shared responsibility to advance maritime security in the region. It is a privilege to be a partner of Seychelles in the development of its security capabilities,” he added.

Speaking of matters of security cooperation between the two nations, Prime Minister Modi spoke of the coastal surveillance radar project, that he is scheduled to launch with President Michel later in the day. “Today, I am pleased to announce that we will be giving one more Dornier aircraft to Seychelles. Later today, I will have the honour to launch the Coastal Surveillance Radar Project. This is another symbol of our cooperation. These steps will enable Seychelles to secure these beautiful islands and the vast expanse of waters around them. Seychelles will also continue to make an enormous contribution to the safety and security of the Indian Ocean Region,” he said.

“Our agreement today on hydrographic survey adds a new dimension to our maritime cooperation. I thank Seychelles for their confidence in India. We also hope that Seychelles will soon be a full partner in the maritime security cooperation between India, Maldives and Sri Lanka,” he added.

Assumption Island is one of the 115 islands scattered over 1.5 million square kilometres of sea in the middle of the Western Indian Ocean. The islands fall into two distinct groups – the Inner Islands that lie within the relatively shallow Seychelles Plateau – and the Outer Islands that lie beyond the Plateau up to ten degrees south of the Equator.

The Assumption Island is 11.74 square kilometres in size and is part of the Aldabra Group. Relations between India and Seychelles have been characterized by close cooperation and understanding, specifically in the defence sector.

In 1986, India had executed ‘Operation Flowers are Blooming’ in Seychelles, when on a request by then-president Rene, prime minister Rajiv Gandhi instructed then Indian Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Tahiliani, to dispatch the frigate INS Vindhyagiri to avert a coup.

In 2009, on the request of Seychelles, India dispatched naval ships to patrol its exclusive economic zone and guard it against piracy. India has also helped Seychelles’ armed forces in capacity building.

In 2014, an Indian naval ship, the INS Tarasa, was gifted to Seychelles to augment surveillance and patrolling capacity of Seychelles waters. Several Indian ships have since made port calls in Victoria.

Seychelles had earlier offered China its harbour for refuelling and docking of Chinese warships stationed in the Gulf of Aden for anti-piracy operations.

India was alarmed by the development, though Beijing tried to assuage Indian fears that it was not looking at Seychelles as a military base, but only as a pit stop for refuelling purposes.