Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Indian Navy successfully combats pirates

India’s coast guard and navy has captured 28 suspected Somali pirates and rescued 24 Thai fisherman from a fishing trawler that was used as a pirate mothership off the coast of India. It is the country’s second piracy success in under two weeks.

On Saturday February 5, the Greek-flagged merchant ship Chios was attacked by pirates about 100 miles off the Indian coast, but the attack was unsuccessful. A coast guard vessel, the ICGS Smar, and INS Tir, an Indian Navy training ship, were deployed to search for the pirates. The next day Smar came across the Thai fishing Trawler, Prantalay 11, which had been hijacked in April last year. After shadowing the trawler and failing to establish communications with it, the ICGS fired several warning shots, forcing the vessel to stop.

“The crew of the pirate vessel surrendered by hoisting a white flag and mustered on the forward portion of the ship,” the coastguard said. “All personnel onboard the pirates' vessel were thereafter directed to jump into the water for recovery.” 
Samar and Tir picked up a total of 28 suspected pirates and 24 fishermen. The pirates had been using the Thai ship as mother ship and used for launching raids on the open ocean.

The week before, the Indian Navy and Coast Guard liberated another Prantalay fishing vessel. On January 28 the Bahamas-flagged container ship MV Verdi was approached by pirates in skiffs. After the crew asked the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) for help, the Indian Coast Guard sent out a Dornier maritime patrol aircraft over the area. As soon as the pirates saw the aircraft, their skiffs changed direction and moved towards their Prantalay 14 mother ship.

The ship had been hijacked a few months before and its Thai and Burmese crew held hostage. After several hours chase, the Navy’s fast attack craft Cankarso closed in and tried in vain to establish contact. Then Cankarso fired a warning shot and after an exchange of gunfire, the pirates surrendered. Twenty fishermen were rescued while the 15 Somali and Ethiopian pirates apprehended were arrested once ashore in India.

Somali pirates are quite active in Indian Ocean, as they have launched several attacks in recent years. Today pirates successfully hijacked an Italian-flagged oil tanker in the Indian Ocean, abducting 17 sailors. Suspected Somali pirates also captured five Italian sailors in the incident, which occurred 800 kilometres off the west coast of India and some 1 300 kilometres off the Somali coast.

The pirates used rocket launchers and submachine guns to hijack the 266 metre long MV Savina Caylyn, which is now heading for Somalia. According to the Italian Coast Guard, gunfire was exchanged between the pirates and crew before the ship was boarded.

India has a warship permanently stationed in the Gulf of Aden, together with more than 40 ships from different countries that are deployed there to combat piracy. Whilst pirate activity has decreased in that region, it has risen to the east, near India, and south, near Tanzania.

Indian defence minister has A K Antony voiced concern over recent incidents of piracy involving Somali pirates around Indian waters, according to Outlook India. “Our waters are not safe like before. There are some other forces helping them. We cannot remain mere spectators”.

Piracy is costing international governments between US$7 billion and US$12 billion per year and is raising costs along vital shipping routes between Europe and Asia, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Rerouting ships to avoid Somali pirates is costing between US$2.4 and US$3 billion a year, according to Oceans Beyond Piracy. International naval anti-piracy operations cost another US$2 billion, the group estimates.

“It’s a sign of the situation worsening,” according to P K Ghosh, a maritime expert at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. “While the numbers of incidents are going down, the sophistication and their strategic reach are increasing dramatically.”

Ghosh was making reference to the increasing use of mother ships to launch attacks further and further from Somalia, as the recent attacks in Indian waters have demonstrated. Mother ships allow pirates to carry tools to break down ‘citadels’ or safe-rooms in ships, and also carry fuel for long chases. At the moment there are between eight and ten known mother ships in use, but probably double that when taking into account unknown vessels, according to Dirk Steffen, a director at the Hamburg, Germany, office of Risk Intelligence.

The Indian Navy is improving its presence around the Kakshadweep islands just off its coast by building new facilities and upgrading existing stations. It says piracy fell 75% around the islands since December, a month after patrols were stepped up there.

However, experts and organisations like the United Nations agree that solving piracy means tackling problems on land. “What the military effort, in a sense, is doing, is suppressing the issue,” says Ghosh. “The problem can only be sorted out if it is tackled from land, otherwise my prediction is that this piracy issue will spiral totally out of control and countries will find it extremely difficult to handle it.”

India has suggested various ways of combating piracy and proposed several ideas at a UN Security Council meeting in New York. Among its suggestions are that vessels off the Somali coast should be tracked in defined corridors; governments should follow the ransom money and prosecute beneficiaries; and laws should be enacted to criminalise piracy as defined in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
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