BSS
  20 Jun 2024, 16:25

India boosts Sri Lanka's maritime monitoring centres

COLOMBO, June 20, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - Sri Lanka launched an upgraded naval monitoring centre on Thursday, funded by its powerful neighbour India as New Delhi pushes to counter China's expanding regional influence.

The Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre -- able to track shipping across vast areas -- was backed by a $6 million Indian grant, a statement from President Ranil Wickremesinghe's office said.

Based in Sri Lanka's naval headquarters in Colombo, it also includes seven remote stations along the island's eastern seaboard.

One lies in the far south of Sri Lanka -- close to the Chinese-run port of Hambantota -- overseeing major international east-to-west shipping routes.

Sri Lanka's maritime rescue region covers an area of 1.77 million square kilometres (683,400 square miles) stretching from India to Indonesia, Australia and the Maldives.

India's foreign minister S. Jaishankar opened the facility during his first foreign visit since the formation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's new government this month.

Jaishankar said on social media that Colombo was a key part of India's "neighbourhood first" and maritime security policies.

India is suspicious of China's growing presence in the Indian Ocean, including in Sri Lanka as well as the Maldives, which signed a military assistance pact with Beijing in March.

That deal came as a garrison of Indian soldiers, who had been stationed in the upscale holiday destination to assist with maritime patrols, was ordered by pro-Beijing President Mohamed Muizzu to leave.

China, which is Sri Lanka's biggest lender and owns around 10 percent of its foreign debt, has also funded several development projects on the island, including a rarely-used convention centre and airport in Hambantota, which critics have slammed as white elephants.

Jaishankar also discussed New Delhi-backed infrastructure and energy projects, some funded by India's Adani group, officials said.

In 2021, Sri Lanka awarded a strategic port development in Colombo to India's Adani group -- a 1.4-kilometre (0.9-mile) jetty next to a Chinese-operated terminal.

And Adani was last month awarded a deal to establish a $442-million wind energy plant in Sri Lanka's north, although that has faced legal challenges from local residents.

 

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