The 16th iteration of the ‘Dosti’ maritime exercise, involving collaboration between the Maldives, India, and Sri Lanka, and with Bangladesh participating as an observer, has officially commenced in the Maldives. 

This drill is part of a broader effort to enhance regional maritime security and cooperation, and it coincides with a significant development in US-Maldives relations. The United States has announced plans to allocate US$8 million for the provision of four patrol boats to the Maldives, marking a considerable commitment to bolstering the archipelago’s maritime capabilities and sovereignty.

This announcement was made during a crucial meeting in Male’ on Thursday, between Maldivian Foreign Minister Moosa Zameer and US Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Richard Verma. According to State Department spokesperson Mathew Miller, the dialogue focused on mutual interests in economic cooperation, maritime security, and strengthening people-to-people ties. 

The proposed US assistance aims to enhance the Maldives’ ability to monitor its waters more effectively, deterring threats and malign influences from both state and non-state actors.

The ‘Dosti’ exercise, inaugurated by Maldivian Defence Minister Mohamed Ghassan Maumoon, underscores the importance of collective action in addressing maritime security concerns. The drill encompasses a range of operations, from search and rescue to counter-piracy, reflecting a commitment across the region to protect maritime domains from emerging threats.

Rooted in cooperation since 1991, ‘Dosti’ has become a symbol of strengthened ties among the participating nations. The inclusion of Bangladesh as an observer and the strategic support from the United States highlight Maldives’ growing network of maritime collaboration, emphasising the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean region.

This year’s exercise unfolds amid heightened diplomatic tensions between the Maldives and India, following an unauthorised military intrusion by Indian naval forces into Maldivian territorial waters. The Maldivian parliament is investigating the incident, and the government has sought a formal explanation from India regarding the events of late January 2024.

The exercise also occurs at a time when Indian Ocean nations are vigilant of Chinese maritime activities in the region and an increase in pirate activity off the coast of Africa. On Wednesday, the arrival of the Chinese marine research vessel Xiang Yang Hong 03 near Male’, after spending a month near the Maldives’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), sparked discussions on regional security and the strategic implications of such movements. Despite China’s assurances of the peaceful and scientific nature of the vessel’s research, India has raised concerns over the potential military applications of the data collected by such dual-use expeditions.

The ‘Dosti’ exercise, alongside these developments, highlights the complex dynamics of maritime security in the Indian Ocean, underscoring the need for enhanced cooperation and vigilance among the nations in the region.