‘Gifts’ will pave the way for further strengthening bilateral relations, says Maldivian Minister

India on Saturday donated a second naval Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), Dhruv, to the Maldives in a gesture that was described by Maldivian Minister for Defence Mohamed Nazim as “paving the way for further strengthening of ties between both countries.”

A brand new, Mark-III (the latest) variant of the India-made multi-role helicopter in Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) colours was unveiled at a simple ceremony attended by Mr. Nazim, Vice-Admiral Satish Soni, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of India’s Southern Naval Command, and MNDF Brigadier General Ali Zuhair besides senior formations from both sides, officials from the Ministry of External Affairs and representatives of the helicopter manufacturer, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, at naval air station Garuda in Kochi.

Cordial relation

On the last leg of his India visit, Mr. Nazim said the Maldives maintained a friendly and cordial relation with its neighbours, especially India, which stood by the nation whenever it needed support. Defence cooperation between both countries grew drastically over the past few years with Indian armed forces, particularly the Navy, contributing greatly to MNDF’s capacity-building. He said the ‘gift’ would help the island nation’s Coast Guard carry out search and rescue and medical evacuation from its far-flung territories.

Vice-Admiral Soni said India shared long-standing ties with Maldives. While Indian Navy trained MNDF personnel and despatched its ships and aircraft to patrol the Maldivian exclusive economic zone, the Maldives contributed to security in the Indian Ocean region by enhanced surveillance and anti-piracy patrol. The nation also actively participated in forums such as the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) and the biennial exercise Milan.

Vice-Admiral Soni told the media later that provisioning the ALH, the face of India’s aviation industry, was indicative of the importance India attached to its relationship with the island nation. While the ALH already in operation with the Maldivian Coast Guard was based at the southern Maldivian island of Addu, the more advanced, second helicopter — which also sports a weather radar— would operate from the northern Hannimadhoo Island, primarily on medical evacuation duty. The helicopter would be initially manned and maintained by an all-Indian crew.

Maldives top priority

The Maldives topped India’s priority alongside Bangladesh, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Defence cooperation between both countries was set for further growth, he said. As many as 16 MNDF personnel were presently undergoing training at India’s Southern Naval Command, the Indian Navy’s Training Command.

(The Indian Navy has trained MNDF personnel since 1988. Maldivian defence personnel subscribe to at least 35 courses every year)

T. Suvarna Raju, Director (Design and Development) of HAL, said the Mark-III variant of the indigenous chopper sported a digital cockpit and was capable of performing several roles.

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