On October 24, the Indian Naval Ship (INS) Airavat left the port of Mumbai carrying much-needed food assistance for four countries (Sudan, South Sudan, Djibouti, and Eritrea) located in the Horn of Africa. INS Airavat is carrying a total of 270 Metric Tonnes of food including 155 MT of wheat flour, 65 MT of rice and 50 MT of sugar. During the visit, INS Airavat will also make port calls at Djibouti, Massawa (in Eritrea), Port Sudan (in Sudan) and Mombasa (in Kenya).
This is the second such humanitarian mission launched by the Indian Navy in 2020. Earlier this year, in April-May, at the peak of the crisis induced by the Covid-19 pandemic, Indian Navy had also deployed INS Kesari as part of the Covid-19 relief mission. Dubbed as ‘Mission Sagar’, it included providing 580 tonnes of food and medical supplies to the Indian Ocean island nations of the Maldives, Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros and Seychelles.
Building on previous disaster relief efforts, launched to assist Mozambique (in 2019) and Madagascar (in 2020), both these latest missions underline India’s growing capability and willingness to undertake naval missions and support regional countries in the greater Indian Ocean region. They also demonstrate the growing role of Indian Navy as a key player in achieving broader foreign and strategic policy objectives.
It is interesting to note that INS Airavat will not only provide food supplies to the drought-prone region of the Horn of Africa but also will engage in naval diplomacy through the port calls. It will further consolidate India’s outreach to the greater Western Indian Ocean region. Over the years, Indian Navy has been a proactive player in regional security efforts through participation in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia and the latest instance of assistance will only strengthen India’s role as a foremost responder to the crises in the Indian Ocean region.
Growing strategic significance of the greater Horn of Africa
In the last decade, the region lying between Suez Canal and the Seychelles has emerged as a new geopolitical hotspot with factors like impressive economic growth of regional countries, emergence of new security threats, and the ensuing major power rivalry driving the strategic trajectory of the region.
The straits of Bab el-Mandeb, which lies at the heart of this region, connects the energy-rich Middle East to Europe and, along with the Suez Canal, is considered a jugular vein for global trade. Annually, goods worth about $ 700 billion, 25,000 ships and nearly two billion barrels of oil pass through the strategic Bab el-Mandeb Strait.