Agaléga, a secret base, and India’s claim to power

How the construction of an airstrip and jetty on a remote Mauritian island points to a rising India that plans to flex its muscles as a regional superpower.

The coconut plantation

Pearly white beaches, coconut trees and an azure sea as far as the eye can see adorn two islands shaped like an exclamation mark. The northern island is long and thin, the southern island, across a 200-metre-wide (218-yard) channel, short and round.

Together, they make up Agaléga, a far-flung part of Mauritius more than 1,100km (684 miles) from the main island - a trip that takes about two days by boat.

The two islands are only about 25sq km (9.65sq miles) but, despite their small size, they may play an important role in a geopolitical game between rising superpowers and their struggle for dominance in the Indian Ocean.

Agaléga, despite its appeal, has not been discovered by droves of tourists like many others in the Indian Ocean. There are no hotels, no water bungalows, no tourist shops.

The 300 islanders mainly live off growing coconuts and catching fish, as they have for generations.

Maintenance is handled by state company Outer Island Development Corporation, which provides everything from general supplies to water, electricity and internet.

Supplies - anything from cattle to food for the local store - were brought in every three months by the same ship, the MV Trochetia.

Because there were no docking facilities big enough, the Trochetia would drop anchor some distance from the coast and wait for smaller boats to ferry out and unload it.

It did not matter because, for years, Agaléga rarely saw big ships. But in late 2019, large bulk carriers began appearing near the tip of the northern island where they would stay for months at a time.

The northern island had a short runway - about 800 metres (0.5 miles) - long enough for small propeller planes used by the Mauritian coastguard but not for cargo planes.

Pictures posted on Facebook by seamen show bulk carriers near Agaléga (Credit:Facebook)