India adds flavour to Vanilla Islands in the Indian Ocean

The strategic location of these islands makes it vulnerable to be used as power projection locations in the Indian Ocean Region. Given the extensive exclusive economic zones (EEZ) to which they are entitled by the UNCLOS, several of these island governments are increasingly referring to themselves as large “Ocean States”.

India adds flavour to Vanilla Islands in the Indian Ocean
The term ‘Vanilla’ is used because these countries are known for their export of the flavouring spice produce of Vanilla.

By Raaj Nair

The origin of the term Vanilla Islands traces to the 2010, when the island nations in Western Indian Ocean decided to cooperate to boost international tourism. This cooperation, which was created on August 4, 2010, in La Réunion, focuses on pooling resources and showcasing the region for international tourism. The term ‘Vanilla’ is used because these countries are known for their export of the flavouring spice produce of Vanilla.

These island nations include Mauritius, Seychelles, Madagascar, Reunion, Mayotte and Comoros. Of these six constituent entities of the ‘Vanilla Islands’, four (Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles, and Mauritius) are independent republics, while the remaining two (Mayotte and La Reunion) are under the political control of France.  

These Vanilla Island nations are located in and near the Mozambique channel, making them an important strategic position for commerce with African countries. These islands are strategically crucial because they are located on critical International Sea Lanes that connect Africa and the Southern Oceans to West Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, and East Asia. Their geographical location in the ISL between Europe and the Indian Ocean through the Cape of Good Hope makes them ideally suited for Operational Turn Round (OTR) for warships, including the logistics replenishment and rest for the crew. The strategic location of these islands makes it vulnerable to be used as power projection locations in the Indian Ocean Region.

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For regional powers like India and France and extra regional powers like US, China and Japan, these island nations have now become important in their strategic calculus. Given the extensive exclusive economic zones (EEZ) to which they are entitled by the UNCLOS, several of these island governments are increasingly referring to themselves as large “Ocean States”.

France gained the upper hand among the European powers in the Vanilla Islands in the 18th century. The construction of the Suez Canal linking the Mediterranean and the Red Sea in the mid 19th century obviated the need for European shipping to go round Africa. This, in turn, reduced the strategic significance of the Vanilla islands. On the one hand, this is due to the continued relevance of the Mozambique Channel as a geopolitically viable alternative to the Suez Canal as the famous Canal has been vulnerable trade route from time to time. For example, Egypt closed the Suez Canal twice as a consequence of armed conflict in 1956-57 and then again for a staggering eight years, from1967-1975, with fifteen cargo ships known as “The Yellow Fleet” remaining trapped inside throughout the years of closure.  

Sporadic terrorist-attacks over the years, on the facilities of Suez Canal including transiting vessels has created doubts over the safety and security of passage of the ships and its goods through it.  In 2013, a Sinai-based militant group attacked two vessels in the waterway with rocket-propelled grenades. Again, in 2015, Egyptian authorities intercepted and thwarted a bomb attack by the Muslim Brotherhood group.  ISIS terrorists attacked Suez in May 2022 and led to the death of eleven Egyptian soldiers. Shipping accidents have also caused disruption of passage on several occasions.  The most recent occurred in March of 2021, when the grounding of the 20,000-TEU container-carrier, the MV Ever Given, caused a six-day closure, imposing a cost-penalty upon the global economy of $416 million per hour. Consequently, the relevance of the Mozambique Channel as an attractive alternative (and often the only one) to the Suez Canal continuous to hold well.

The author is an Indian Navy veteran (Commander).

Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited.

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