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India begins infrastructure work on Assumption Island of Seychelles

IANS  |  New Delhi 

Five months after leasing Assumption Island, one of the 115 islands that constitute Seychelles, India has begun preparations for infrastructure development, including quarters for the Seychelles Coast Guard and fixing the airstrip on the remote island where there is very little human activity.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a media statement after talks with visiting Seychelles President James Alix Michel here on Wednesday, said: "We have begun preparations for infrastructure development on Assumption Island in Seychelles."

During Modi's visit to Seychelles in March, both countries inked an agreement to develop infrastructure on Assumption Island, which lies 1,140 km southwest of the mainland of Mahe.

Assumption had an airstrip mainly used to bring scientists back and forth from the neighbouring Aldabra Atoll, one of the Indian Ocean archipelago's two Unesco World Heritage sites. Aldabra lies only 27 km from Assumption.

A report by Seychelles News Agency, quoting Lieutenant Colonel Michael Rosette, chief of staff of the Seychelles People's Defence Forces (SPDF), said the agreement would enable the Indian government to help Seychelles through the SPDF to build military infrastructures on Assumption.

The infrastructure is to include quarters for the Seychelles Coast Guard personnel and fixing up of the jetty and existing airstrip on the island to have a "forward base" for the SPDF, mainly the coast guard.

The facility on Assumption is to also include modern equipment to enable the coast guard to have its vessels and air force planes on the island, Rosette told the news agency.

India and Seychelles have had cooperation in the field of defence and maritime security for many years, which has seen India helping to patrol the Seychelles waters and gifting several equipment to the SPDF.

Among the equipment gifted by India was a patrol ship to the Seychelles Coast Guard.

During Modi's visit, the donation of a second Dornier surveillance aircraft to the Seychelles Coast Guard was also announced to increase maritime security.

India gifted Seychelles its first Dornier early in 2013.

Rosette confirmed that India and other international partners involved in the fight against piracy and other illicit maritime activities in the region will also be able to use the facilities on Assumption.

Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands, has a total land area of 455 square km spread over an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 1.3 million square km.

The Coast Guard base on Assumption is viewed by the SPDF as an ideal location that will allow the Seychelles military to better undertake surveillance of the EEZ and respond faster and more efficiently in cases of reported incidents in the area.

The infrastructure built on Assumption is expected to drastically cut down on the time needed to despatch a coast guard vessel or aircraft in case of any incident.

It currently takes over 40 hours to despatch a coast guard vessel and three hours to despatch a military surveillance plane in case of any incident in the area.

A coast guard base stationed there would cut the response time to around 4-5 hours.

Assumption is also the nesting site for turtles and its surrounding waters are frequented by chartered yachts for diving purposes.

During his visit, Modi also launched the Coastal Surveillance Radar station, which he described as another symbol of cooperation between the two countries.

Modi also visited Mauritius at the time, during which India inked plans to build strategic assets in Agalega island in Mauritius.

India's moves in the strategically located islands in the Indian Ocean come as China has been increasing its footprint there as part of its Maritime Silk Road, running from Asia to Africa.

In 2012, reports had emerged of an offer from Seychelles to China for a base to provide relief and resupply facilities to the People's Liberation Army Navy, causing worry in India.

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First Published: Wed, August 26 2015. 21:06 IST