Indian Ocean Commission (IOC)

The Indian Ocean Commission is an intergovernmental organization that links African Indian  Ocean nations: Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Réunion (an overseas region of France), and  Seychelles.

  • The commission was created in 1982 in Port-Louis, Mauritius, and institutionalized in  1984. The secretariat is based in Mauritius. The current secretary-general is Hamada  Madi 
  • The chief objective of the Commission is to foster ties of friendship among the member  countries and also spread solidarity among the populations of the entire island countries  of the African Indian Ocean.  
  • Originally, the IOC’s functioning included the areas of trade and tourism. Now it has  diversified its mandate.  
  • The IOC defends the members nations’ interests in Africa and also in international fora. 
  • It has many projects in arenas such as sustainable management of natural resources,  ecosystem preservation, maritime security, entrepreneurship, public health, culture and  renewable energies. 

Objectives 

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. 

IOC Members 

The IOC has five member countries. They are: 

1. Comoros

2. Madagascar 

3. Mauritius 

4. Réunion (an overseas region of France) 

5. Seychelles 

The IOC has seven observers. They are: 

1. India 

2. China 

3. Japan 

4. European Union 

5. Sovereign Order of Malta 

6. International Organisation of La Francophonie 

7. United Nations 

India became an observer of the IOC in March 2020.

MASE Program 

The MASE Program is an EU-funded program to augment Maritime Security in Eastern and  Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean. It was launched in 2012

  • Under this program, the IOC has set up a mechanism for the control and surveillance of  the western Indian Ocean region. 
  • It has two regional centres:  

o Regional Maritime Information Fusion Centre (RMIFC) – Madagascar 

o Regional Coordination Operations Centre (RCOC) – Seychelles 

  • The system is designed to increase maritime domain awareness by monitoring maritime  activities and boosting the sharing & exchange of information. Based on the information  available, the stakeholders would take joint or jointly-coordinated interventions at sea. 
  • The RCOC would take action based on information gathered from the RMIFC. 
  • These initiatives were taken to control and take action against maritime crimes that  creates a lot of trouble in the region, especially piracy. 
  • Many international powers have expressed interest in availing information from the  RMIFC. 

Achievements of IOC 

  • In 2012, the IOC was one of the four regional organisations to launch the MASE  Programme 
  • MASE is an EU-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 Centre (RMIFC), based in Madagascar,  monitors maritime activities and promotes information sharing 
  • The Regional Coordination Operations Centre (RCOC), based in Seychelles, will facilitate  jointly coordinated interventions at sea based on information gathered through the RMIFC. 

What are the merits of maritime security architecture (RMIFC & RCOC) created by IOC? 

  • These platforms act as deterrent against maritime crime at sea 
  • Supplements the high-level counter-piracy presence of naval forces from the EU and  USA 
  • It provides sustainable framework to improve maritime control and surveillance while  allowing littoral States to shape their own destiny 

Way Ahead: How Indian can help IOC? 

  • Support sub-regional efforts such as those of the IOC. 
  • Building capacity of IOC countries to patrol their EEZs
  • Linking of India’s information fusion centres with others in the region 
  • Providing Technical expertise in maritime monitoring & surveillance 
  • Providing India’s satellite imagery services to RMIFC 

Significance of an Observer Status of India 

  • Maritime security 

o India is a major stakeholder in the Indian Ocean and maritime security is a high  priority agenda. 

o India could make good use of the information from the RMIFC to bolster its own  maritime awareness in the region.  

  • This can supplement Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre for Indian  Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) in Gurugram, which was established in 2018 to  monitor maritime movements in the Indian Ocean region. 

o The maritime security architecture that the IOC propounds offers sustainable  and workable solutions to better maritime control & surveillance. The regional coordination and local successes at checking maritime threats will have broader security dividends for the Indian Ocean region. 

  • Regional diplomacy 

o The IOC is an opportunity for India to engage positively with the island nations. o With this, India can boost its influence and relations in the strategic Indian Ocean  region. 

o With this, India also gets an official presence in a major regional organisation in  the Western Indian Ocean region. 

oThe decision to join the IOC marks a part of the government’s push for greater  prominence in the whole Indian Ocean Region (IOR), including in the Western or  African Indian Ocean. 

  • Engagement with the Western Indian Ocean: 

o It will facilitate collective engagement with the islands in the Western Indian  Ocean that are becoming strategically significant. 

o Given China’s growing presence in the region, India will be able to increase its  naval presence and gain support for its maritime projects across the Indo Pacific. 

o The Western Indian Ocean (WIO) is also a strategic location of the Indian Ocean  linking the Southeastern coast of Africa to the wider Indian Ocean and beyond. Opportunity in the Mozambique Channel: 

o The IOC islands are situated around one of the key chokepoints in the Indian  Ocean- the Mozambique Channel.

  • The Mozambique Channel is an arm of the Indian Ocean located between  the African countries of Madagascar and Mozambique. 

o 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). 

o Potential of natural gas reserves in the Mozambique Channel further increases  the significance of the region. 

  • Cooperation with France: 

o It will also help to boost cooperation with France that has a strong presence in  the western Indian ocean. 

  • China’s influence 

o This move will help India counter China’s growing influence in the region. 

  • SAGAR Policy: 

o It will help to extend India's SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region)  policy in the region. 

o SAGAR is an articulation of India’s vision for the Indian Ocean which aims for enhancement of capacities to safeguard land and maritime territories &  

  • interests; deepening economic and security cooperation in the littoral; action to  deal with natural disasters and maritime threats like piracy, terrorism. 

Significance  

  • For India, the importance of joining this organization lies in several things. 
  • First, India will get an official foothold in a premier regional institution in the western  Indian Ocean, boosting engagement with islands in this part of the Indian Ocean. 
  • These island nations are increasingly important for India’s strategic outreach as part of  its Indo-Pacific policy. 
  • This move would enhance ties with France which is the strong global power in the  western Indian Ocean. 
  • It lends depth to India’s SAGAR (security and growth for all in the region) policy unveiled  by PM Modi in 2015. 
  • The move, India hopes, would lead to greater security cooperation with countries in East  Africa. 
  • The IOC can benefit from India’s support especially through her extensive satellite  infrastructure for improved maritime security and monitoring in the region. The IOC  members can also engage in counter-piracy operations and patrolling with the Indian  Navy. 
  • Other areas of cooperation include climate change, sustainable development,  telecommunication, healthcare, etc.

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Blog Post written by:
Anurag Trivedi
UPSC Mentor