The Maldives on Friday accused India of violating international maritime laws following an incident where Indian navy and coastguard personnel boarded at least three Maldivian fishing vessels inside its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The incident occurred on Wednesday near the Maldives’ northern maritime boundary, which marks a further escalation of already tense relations between the Indian Ocean neighbours.

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) initially stated that the origin of the foreign vessels was unknown, as its coastguard only reached the location of the vessel “Asuruma-3” after the foreign naval forces had retreated.

On Friday, a video circulating on social media, purportedly showing Indian military personnel boarding the local fishing vessels, revealed the nationality of the foreign troops, which the MNDF and the government had shown reluctance to name.

In the statement released late Friday, the Ministry of Defence noted that the MNDF Coastguard quickly responded to a report of foreign military boarding the “Asuruma-3” fishing vessel inside the Maldives’ EEZ, located 72 nautical miles northeast of Dhihdhoo in the Haa Alif Atoll.

According to the statement, the operation was coordinated under the direct orders of President Dr Mohamed Muizzu in his capacity as Head of the Army, although the President’s Office has yet to comment on the potential violation of the Maldives’ sovereignty by a foreign military force.

The statement also, for the first time, acknowledged that two other vessels, “Niru 7” and “Maahoara 3,” were boarded by the Indian military, a development confirmed by the coastguard upon its arrival at the location.

It noted that the Maldives government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has formally requested India to provide justification for the boarding of Maldivian fishing vessels by Indian navy and coastguard personnel without prior notice or coordination with relevant Maldivian authorities.

In the statement, the defence ministry identified the Indian naval vessels as “Indian coastguard ship 246” and “Indian coastguard ship 253.”

In the footage, shared by the Bodukanneli Masveringe Union (Yellowfin Tuna Fishermen’s Union), the troops were seen in action aboard the boats. The union, which first highlighted the incident, has played a pivotal role in bringing the matter to the attention of both the government and the public.

The circulated video shows armed military personnel aboard the Maldivian vessels, with crew members confined to the sterns of their boats. Audio from the video captures the voices of fishermen and crew, urging Indian officials to leave the vessels and highlighting the MNDF Coastguard’s stance that the boarding was unlawful.

A crew member is heard stating that the MNDF Coastguard declared the boarding of their vessels by Indian officers as illegal, emphasising that such actions were not permissible without their consent while in Maldivian territory, thereby highlighting the legal and sovereign issues involved.