Mauritius’s Agaléga Island: Is India building a secret military base there?

Team India Sentinels Thursday 29th of February 2024 11:58 PM

The distance between Mauritius’s Agaléga and mainland India is a little over 3,000 kilometres at the nearest points. (Google Maps)

Agaléga Island comprises two islets, shaped like an exclamation mark (!) – a long and thin northern island and a shorter, round southern island. It is slightly over 3,000 kilometres from the nearest mainland Indian coast, deep in the Indian Ocean near Madagascar.

Despite its pristine appeal, Agaléga remains largely undiscovered by tourists. There are no hotels, water bungalows, or bustling tourist shops. Instead, approximately 300 islanders sustain themselves through coconut cultivation and fishing, maintaining a way of life passed down through generations.

The state-owned Outer Island Development Corporation oversees Agaléga’s necessities, from general supplies to water, electricity, and internet.

The exclamation mark-shaped two islets that make Agaléga Island. (Satellite photo: Google Earth)

Is India secretly building a military outpost there?

There have been several reports speculating that India is secretly building a naval outpost in Agaléga Island. This was significant because those reports insinuated India’s intent to extend its influence over the western side of the Indian Ocean.

Speculations started when in late 2019, large bulk carriers began appearing near the tip of Agaléga’s northern island, where they would anchor for months at a time. Satellite images showed some kind of construction activity going on in the island.

The construction project gained momentum when the bulk carrier Glocem, operated by an Indian company named Sals Shipping, arrived in Mauritius from the Bay of Bengal port of Visakhapatnam, where the headquarters of India’s Eastern Naval Command is located.

The Glocem anchored near Agaléga for extended periods, with cargo holds open and smaller vessels ferrying supplies to and from the carrier. Following this, reports with fresh satellite images and other pointers suggested that the structures being built on this remote island are almost certainly intended for military purposes.

What does Mauritius say?

While the Mauritian prime minister, Pravind Jugnauth, and Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, jointly inaugurated the Indian-financed airstrip and jetty on the north islet of Agaléga on Thursday, as India Sentinels reported, Port Louis denies any military intentions for the remote island.

Agaléga airstrip and jetty marked inside red triangle. (Satellite image: Google Earth)

Jugnauth has categorically denied any plans to use the remote islet for military purposes. He also expressed his disapproval of what he termed an “India-bashing campaign” propagated by “certain individuals” within Mauritius and abroad.

According to Jugnauth, the new airstrip and jetty will not only modernize Agaléga but also significantly enhance its security. They are expected to play a crucial role in combating drug trafficking, human smuggling, illegal fishing, and emergency response.

Imperial mistreatment

However, it may also be noted that the situation surrounding Agaléga echoes historical sensitivities. The fear of a repeat of the 1965 decision by Britain to separate the Chagos Islands from Mauritius and establish a joint military base with the United States on Diego Garcia – the largest of the isles – lingers in the collective memory of the Mauritians.

The Chagossians, who were displaced during that period, continue to protest, accusing the United Kingdom of an “illegal occupation”. Meanwhile, Britain maintains its claim over the Chagos Islands, renewing a lease agreement with the US for the use of Diego Garcia until 2036.

Nonetheless, the situation remains complex, and the Agaléga Island’s transformation continues to raise questions about regional power dynamics and strategic interests.

© India Sentinels 2023-24


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