Sailors were to escort choppers back home but their visas expired on 30 June and Yameen govt is yet to renew them.
New Delhi: For the past 38 days, a detachment of 28 Indian sailors and two Indian helicopters are stranded in the Maldives as the visas of the personnel expired on 30 June.
The sailors are part of the contingent that was to bring the choppers back home. The government of President Abdulla Yameen has refused to renew their visas.
The Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (Dhruv ALH) were gifted to the Maldives in 2013 but the Yameen government earlier this year made it clear that India should take them back, setting a deadline of 30 June.
One of the choppers is in Gan, on the southern tip of the Maldives, in a lagoon named Addu, and the other in Kaddhoo, an island on the northern tip of the country.
The decision of Maldives to return the choppers has come as the relationship between the two countries has frayed in recent years. Chinese investments are pouring into the island nation. And last month, the Pakistani army chief met Yameen and told him that Islamabad will gift him two landing craft (amphibious vehicles).
Weather, history and geopolitics
Other attempts by India to retrieve its craft and personnel have been hit by weather, history and geopolitics.
“The simplest thing to do now that we have a LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement) would be to fly the helicopters to Diego Garcia, just 50 nautical miles from Addu,” a defence forces official told The Print.
But politics and diplomacy have cut in.
On 28 February this year, India handed in a written statement to the International Court of Justice at The Hague, that it supports the claim of Mauritius to the Chagos Islands.
Diego Garcia is in the Chagos Islands. Referred to as the “British Indian Ocean Territory” (BIOT), it has been leased to the US by Britain. It is one of the US’ most important military bases in the Indian Ocean. The US army, navy, marines and the air force operated out of Diego Garcia during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
India cannot take the “simplest” action of moving its sailors and helicopters 50 nautical miles, or 20 minutes of flying time, because such a sortie would negate its diplomatic stance.
The Indian government has also had to contend with the weather. In June, when the sailors’ visas ran out, the monsoon had turned the waters high and rough around the Maldives.
Warships on the way
Now, the Indian Navy has been tasked with sending two warships — the INS Nipat and the Nirbhat — to ferry the “helos” back home.
The Dhruv ALH does not fit into the hangars of every Indian warship. Its rotor blades fold only to be accommodated in the hangars of “Naval Operational Patrol Vessels” (NOPVs). It can land and take off from frigates and destroyers and the carrier. It cannot be housed in them.
In this mesh of history, diplomacy and technology, there are 28 Indian personnel wanting to get back home.