India offered to build naval dockyard in Maldives, says Indian media

India’s Army Chief General Bikram Singh has offered to build a dockyard worth MVR 7.7 billion (US$ 500 million) in the Maldives in his ongoing visit, Indian media has reported.

According to the Deccan Herald, China had already offered to develop the Uthuru Thilafalhu lagoon in the archipelago’s north.

Reclamation work is already underway in the area. Once completed, it will serve as the Maldivian Coastguard’s primary operations base and will provide a much-needed berthing space to naval ships and ocean liners.

India’s Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, during a visit to the Maldives in February, visited the Uthuru Thilafalhu project site. Minivan News understands discussions are underway on Indian investment in the project, but it is not clear if a decision has yet been made.

In recent months, India has been steadily increasing defense cooperation with the Maldives including the gifting of two ‘Dhruv’ Advanced Lightweight Helicopters (ALH) and development of the military hospital Senahiya.

Ties with India came under strain during President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s administration in the aftermath of Indian infrastructure giant GMR’s abrupt eviction. The company had won a concession agreement to develop the main airport.

Waheed went on to strengthen military ties with China, sparking Indian concern over “a Chinese policy to throw a ‘string of pearls’ – or a circle of influence – around India.”

Speaking during an official trip to India earlier this year, new President Abdulla Yameen stated that while the Maldives has “close ties” with China, “nothing will precede ties with India, which are far more precious”.

“While we have had a slight rough patch with India, the time of good relations far outweigh the rough patches we had. I suppose it is easy for us to be on the right track again,” Yameen said, referring to the airport dispute.

Singh’s visit is the first by a serving Indian Defense Chief since General Deepak Kapoor’s visit in February 2010.

An Indian High Commission press release on Tuesday said Singh’s three day visit – set to conclude today – will “further enhance bilateral defense cooperation.”

“India’s commitment to Maldives defense has been growing with each passing year. Both countries have inter-linked mutual security interests which need to be protected for the safety and security of the South Asian region and the Indian Ocean,” the statement said.

During his visit, Singh met with President Yameen, Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim and the Maldivian Chief of Defense Forces Ahmed Shiyam.

Singh also discussed the possibility of supplying fast-attack craft, amphibious landing craft and small arms from New Delhi, reported the Deccan Herald.

Another potential project is to train 40-60 officers of the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) in Indian training establishments, the article continued.

“All such topics were discussed. But we will reveal details at a later time,” said MNDF Deputy Spokesperson Captain Ali Ihusaan, when asked for a comment on reports by Indian news sources.

Chinese investments including a US$54 million for an IT infrastructure project sparked Indian concern in 2013, with Indian Ministry of Communications and IT saying Beijing’s state owned companies must be “kept at bay.”

According to Indian media, the ministry – in an internal government note – suggested “substantial investment in the Maldives on similar projects [as being planned by China] ensuring that the traffic between India and the Maldives is handled through the equipment installed and commissioned in the Maldives by India.”