Chinese ship moors near Maldives after a month in Indian Ocean

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Chinese ship moors near Maldives after a month in Indian Ocean

Friday, 23 February 2024 | PTI | male

A high-tech Chinese marine research ship on Thursday arrived near the Maldives after spending about a month in the Indian Ocean near the island nation, media reports said here. The ship, ‘Xiang Yang Hong 03’ reached the Maldives on the same day when Indian and Sri Lankan coast guard ships reached the strategically located archipelago for a trilateral naval exercise.

India had already expressed concern about the movement of the Chinese research ship in the Indian Ocean and also prevailed on Sri Lanka to refuse permission for the ship to dock at the Colombo port.

“Chinese research vessel Xiang Yang Hong 03 was moored close to Male City this morning. Around noon, the ship was shown to be near Thilafushi,” news portal Edition.mv reported, quoting the Marine Traffic website that tracks all ocean liners across the globe. “Xiang Yang Hong 03 began its journey on January 14, 24 hours after Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu concluded his state visit to China. It arrived near Male’ today after spending about a month near the Maldives’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ),” said Adhadhu.com, a news portal. It also claimed that the vessel was “not visible on common tracking sites starting from January 22. It is believed that the vessel’s tracking systems had been turned off when it was in the Java Sea off Indonesia then.”

An analysis by Adhadhu using satellite AIS tracking showed that the Chinese vessel was later at the EEZ of Maldives, the report said, adding, “The vessel had spent about a month near the EEZ.”

Muizzu, widely seen as a pro-China leader, won last year’s presidential election on an ‘anti-India’ stance. He made Beijing his first port of call going against the tradition of visiting New Delhi first as the Maldivian President.

An American think-tank has alleged that a vast fleet of China’s “scientific research” ships is collecting data from the oceans, including in the Indian Ocean Region, for military purposes, especially for submarine operations, a charge denied by Beijing, which said the Chinese vessels operations are in line with the UN Convention on Law of the Seas (UNCLOS).

On January 23, the Maldives government permitted the research vessel. But while the Maldivian foreign ministry said the Chinese Research Vessel Xiang Yang Hong 3 will “not be conducting any research while in the Maldivian waters,” sources in the Indian defence establishment had indicated that New Delhi was keeping a close watch on the movement of the ship. In February, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, “China’s scientific research activities in relevant waters are for peaceful purposes and aimed at contributing to humanity’s scientific understanding of the ocean.”

Earlier on January 5, Sri Lanka, while denying entry to the Chinese ship, had said it had declared a moratorium on foreign research ships entering its waters for a year amid concerns from India over Chinese research vessels docking in its neighbourhood.

The Maldives’ proximity to India, barely 70 nautical miles from the island of Minicoy in Lakshadweep and 300 nautical miles from the mainland’s western coast, and its location at the hub of commercial sea lanes running through the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) gives it significant strategic importance. The Maldives is India’s key maritime neighbour in the IOR and occupies a special place in its initiatives like SAGAR’ (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the Neighbourhood First Policy’ of the Narendra Modi

government.

Meanwhile, Thursday morning, Coast Guards of Maldives, India, and Sri Lanka, along with observers from Bangladesh, joined in at the Trilateral Joint Exercise ‘DOSTI-16.’

“MNDF welcomes participating ships from India and Sri Lanka for the Trilateral Joint Exercise ‘DOSTI-16’ from Feb 22-25. Coast Guards of Maldives, India, and Sri Lanka, along with observers from Bangladesh, join in this biennial event to enhance collaboration between the forces,” Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) said in a post on X along with the photos of the two vessels. “The purpose of the biennial exercise is to enhance military collaboration between the three nations and explore ways the nations can work together with respect to incidents unfolding at sea,” news portal Sun.mv reported.

DOSTI exercise had initially kicked off between Maldives and India in 1991. Sri Lanka first participated in the exercise in 2012. The exercise was last held in 2021, the portal said.

The visit of the Indian coastguard ship to the Maldives comes amidst President Muizzu’s demand for the withdrawal of 88 Indian military personnel manning three Indian aviation platforms in the island nation by March 15.

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