Following a request from New Delhi, the Indian Ocean Commission granted observer status to India on March 6 at the Commission’s 34th Council of Ministers.
About Indian Ocean Commission
(IOC: Commission de l’Océan Indien, COI)
Founded in 1982, the IOC is an intergovernmental organisation comprising five small-island states in the Western Indian Ocean: the Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Réunion ( France’s overseas territory in the region), and Seychelles.
There are also five observers: China, India, Malta, the European Union and the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie.
The commission was created in 1982 in Port-Louis, Mauritius, and institutionalised in 1984. The secretariat is based in Mauritius
The COI works on four pillars which have been adopted in 2005 by the Summit of Heads of States:
- Political and diplomatic cooperation,
- Economic and commercial cooperation
- Sustainable development in a globalisation context, cooperation in the field of agriculture, maritime fishing, and the conservation of resources and ecosystems
- Strengthening of the regional cultural identity, cooperation in cultural, scientific, technical, educational and judicial fields.
The original ideas were to encourage trade and tourism. Recently, cooperation has focused on marine conservation and fisheries management.
Though Réunion brings a major power, France, into this small-state equation, decisions in the IOC are consensus-based, and while France’s foreign policy interests are represented, the specifics of Réunion’s regional decision-making emerge from its local governance structures.
Importance of Indian Ocean Commission for India:
1.Maritime Security:In 2012, the IOC was one of the four regional organisations to launch the MASE Programme — the European Union-funded programme to promote Maritime Security in Eastern and Southern Africa and Indian Ocean. Under MASE, the IOC has established a mechanism for surveillance and control of the Western Indian Ocean with two regional centres. The Regional Maritime Information Fusion Center (RMIFC), based in Madagascar, is designed to deepen maritime domain awareness by monitoring maritime activities and promoting information sharing and exchange. The Regional Coordination Operations Centre (RCOC), based in Seychelles, will eventually facilitate joint or jointly coordinated interventions at sea based on information gathered through the RMIFC.
2.Opportunity in West Indian Ocean:This move has strategic importance as the Commission is an important regional institution in the Western Indian Ocean. It facilitates collective engagement with the islands in Western Indian Ocean that are becoming strategically significant. It boosts cooperation with France that has strong presence in the Western Indian Ocean.The move also strengthens western flank of the Indo-Pacific and is a stepping stone to security cooperation with East Africa.
3.Economic(Home to a key chokepoint):The Western Indian Ocean (WIO) links the Southeastern coast of Africa to the wider Indian Ocean and beyond. It is home to one of the key chokepoints in the Indian Ocean- the Mozambique Channel. The original idea after the formation of COI was in effect to promote trade and tourism.
- The Mozambique Channel lost its significance post the opening of the Suez Canal, but the recent hostilities near the Strait of Hormuz brought the channel back into focus as the original route for bigger commercial vessels (especially for oil tankers
- While Comoros sits at the northern mouth of the Mozambique Channel, Madagascar borders the channel to its westsits at the northern mouth of the Mozambique Channel, Madagascar borders the channel to its west. While the channel lost its significance post the opening of the Suez Canal, the recent hostilities near the Strait of Hormuz brought the channel back into focus as the original route for bigger commercial vessels (especially for oil tankers).
- Additionally, the growing importance of Africa in Indo-Pacific engagements combined with potential natural gas reserves in the Mozambique Channel will only continue to raise the significance of this region in wider maritime security. Keeping in mind the importance of geography for maritime power projection and naval dominance, there is little doubt about the rising significance of the islands in a new geo-political environment in the Indian Ocean.
4.SAGAR Policy:The move will also lend greater significance to India’s SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region) policy
5.Cooperation with France:It will also help to boost cooperation with France that has a strong presence in the western Indian ocean.
How can India contribute?
The IOC’s maritime security activities have a strong foundation, but they require support and buy-in from additional regional actors. India has already signalled a strong interest in the work of the IOC through its request to be admitted as an observer. The view from Ebène, where the IOC is headquartered, and from where its maritime security strategy is directed, is that major powers are warmly invited to support its initiatives. Nearly all littoral states in the Western Indian Ocean need assistance in developing their maritime domain awareness and in building capacity to patrol their EEZs.