In a move that has stirred both political and economic circles, president Ranil Wickremasinghe has reportedly agreed to a secret deal with New Delhi to hand over exploration rights of the cobalt-rich 'Afanasy Nikitin Seamount' in the Indian Ocean, lankaenews website reports.

This development follows the revelation that the Adani Group will form a joint venture with Taiwanese company UMICORE TAIWAN to exploit the cobalt reserves, valued in billions of dollars.

Strategic alliance to counter China

The agreement comes as part of a strategic partnership between India and Taiwan aimed at preventing Chinese involvement in this Sri Lankan-owned seabed zone.

The underwater mountain, located east of the Maldives and about 1,350 km from the Indian coast, is rich in cobalt, a rare metal essential for various commercial, industrial, and military applications, particularly in rechargeable battery electrodes.

International Seabed Authority involvement

In January, India approached the Jamaica-based International Seabed Authority (ISA) for approval to explore the Afanasy Nikitin Seamount.

The ISA, established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, regulates economic activities on the seabed.

India paid a $500,000 fee for the ISA to consider its application, detailing plans for extensive geophysical, geological, biological, oceanographic, and environmental studies over a 15-year period across 150 blocks spanning 3,000 square kilometers.

Territorial dispute

However, the ISA discovered that the seamount lies entirely within an area claimed by Sri Lanka as part of its continental shelf.

The seabed authority sought a response from India, but on March 12, India indicated it could not respond in time for the ISA’s 29th Session of the Legal and Technical Commission.

Confirmation of the deal

Senior Indian Foreign Ministry officials confirmed that President Ranil has agreed to hand over the seamount to India.

This agreement facilitates the establishment of the joint venture between Adani Group and UMICORE TAIWAN.

The Indian Foreign Minister is scheduled to visit Colombo on June 20 to discuss further bilateral cooperation, including the possibility of allowing Indian citizens to work in Sri Lanka without work permits.

Allegations of corruption

In a startling revelation, two confidential memos obtained by LeN suggest that individuals close to Wickremesinghe demanded substantial sums of money from the Indian and Taiwanese firms to facilitate the handover of Sri Lanka’s sovereign rights over the Afanasy Nikitin Seamount.

This developing story raises significant questions about the geopolitical dynamics in the Indian Ocean region and the economic implications for Sri Lanka.

The unfolding events will be closely watched by international observers and stakeholders involved in seabed mining and strategic resource exploitation.

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