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India Gets Sittwe Port Operation

India is securing its seas with maritime infrastructure development in the Indian Ocean Region

April 26, 2024 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) Photo(s): By X / sarbanandsonwal
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army

 

INDIAN UNION MINISTER FOR PORTS, SHIPPING AND WATERWAYS AND AYUSH SARBANANDA SONOWAL AND MYANMAR'S DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AND UNION MINISTER FOR TRANSPORT & COMMUNICATIONS ADMIRAL TIN AUNG SAN JOINTLY INAUGURATE THE SITTWE PORT IN RAKHINE.

The Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport Project, construction of which commenced in December 2010, connects Kolkata Port with Myanmar's Sittwe Port by sea, Sittwe to Paletwa via river Kaladan, Paletwa to the border of India, and Myanmar via road and further ahead to Lawngtlai, Mizoram by road. The project cost estimated at ₹536 crore in 2008 was revised to ₹3,200 crore in 2023 due to delays and land acquisition costs. This strategic link to the North-East would relieve pressure on the Siliguri Corridor, and is expected to contribute to economic development of India's North-Eastern states by opening the sea route for their products. Taking its name from Kaladan River in Myanmar, the project will reduce the distance between Kolkata and Sittwe by 1,328 km.

India has secured the rights to operate the Sittwe Port, marking a significant step in strengthening ties and economic activity between India and Southeast Asia.

The good news is that India has secured the rights to operate the Sittwe Port. India Post Global Limited (IPGL) has been cleared by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to assume full operational control of the strategically located Sittwe Port. IPGL is a joint venture between Jawahar Lal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) and Deendayal Port Trust. The aim of this joint venture is to develop port projects overseas to strengthen India's maritime posture in the region. Arrival of the first cargo ship from India in May 2023, marked the inauguration of Sittwe Port.

India is already present in the Chabahar Port of Iran, where the IPGL is equipping and running the container terminal. With India now fully operational at the Sittwe Port to strengthen ties and economic activity between India and Southeast Asia, India has a strong strategic presence on both flanks.

Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project

Operationalising the container terminal at Chabahar by India was delayed due to non-availability of cranes and American sanctions. Ironically, India also gave up bulk import of cheap oil from Iran next door under US pressure, which should have been resisted at least partially if not fully. Currently, China imports nearly all of Iran's 1.6 million barrels daily oil production. China defied the US sanctions but faced no US punitive action.

China's focus on the Indian Ocean is increasing with more and more survey and spy ships deployed in the region

In Myanmar, it is good that India has got full operating rights of Sittwe, which would hopefully run smoothly. However, Myanmar's Rakhine State is marred with violence and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) has been killing Hindus. Moreover, China continues to draw Myanmar into its strategic sphere. Myanmar is part of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as part of which China is developing the deep sea port at Kyaukpyu similar to the Gwadar Port in Pakistan. Development of the BRI would witness the presence of China's Peoples' Liberation Army (PLA) in Myanmar under the pretext of protecting the BRI projects. China would aim to undermine Indian presence in the region. Already, a second hanger for aircraft has been constructed in Coco Islands, which indicates increased Chinese presence and activity. Myanmar's Coco Islands are located 55 km north of India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Concurrently, the Andaman and Nicobar Group of Islands, which comprises 836 Islands, with only 38 inhabited, is also undergoing military infrastructure upgrade, which includes revamped airfields, jetties, additional logistics, storage facilities, habitats for troops, and a sophisticated surveillance infrastructure. Facilities recently inaugurated include a modern hangar and dispersal system, a Precision Approach Radar (PAR) for safe aircraft landings in low visibility, and an Integrated Underwater Harbour Defence and Surveillance System. Communication and Operational capabilities have also been boosted with the inauguration of Naval Communication Network (NCN) Centres at INS 'Kohassa', INS 'Baaz' and INS 'Kardi'. Also, the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) has been asked to expand its manpower for analysing satellite imagery and enhancing surveillance of inhabited islands in the Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands straddle one of the busiest sea lanes in the world and give India the reach to monitor the flow of traffic from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean via the Strait of Malacca

The Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), the tri-service command established in 2001 in these islands, is overseeing these upgrades. The upgrade plans include improving surveillance infrastructure on one of the northern islands, extending an airstrip at a crucial naval air station to accommodate larger aircraft and fighter jets, expanding a jetty for bigger ships, upgrading an IAF station to host fighter squadrons, extending a runway including building facilities for asset maintenance, and to construct a container transshipment terminal and associated infrastructure to support operations.

The aim is to boost the military capabilities of the ANC to support the deployment of more military forces, including warships, aircraft, missile batteries, and troops, amid growing Chinese activities in the region. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands straddle one of the busiest sea lanes in the world and give India the reach to monitor the flow of traffic from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean via the Strait of Malacca which is the key to trade and oil shipments in the Indo-Pacific.

Maldives Industrial Development Free Zone (MIDF) has recently signed a MoU with the China Harbor Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC) to undertake a large-scale agriculture project after land reclamation in Uthuru Thila Falhu - an atoll closest to India

China's focus on the Indian Ocean is increasing with more and more survey and spy ships deployed in the region. On March 28, 2024, the Maldives Industrial Development Free Zone (MIDF) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the China Harbor Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC) to undertake a large-scale agriculture project after land reclamation in Uthuru Thila Falhu - an atoll closest to India. Under the MoU, the MNDF and CHEC are to develop an Agricultural Economic Zone (AEZ). The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) suspects that the Chinese are coming to undertake military work in the Uthuru Thila Falhu atoll. Notably, CHEC developed Sri Lanka's Hambantota Port, which was later taken over by Beijing for 99 years after Colombo failed to service its debts. China would have aimed to trap Maldives similarly.