Sixteen days after Somali pirates took over MT Stolt Valor — the chemical tanker carrying 18 Indian sailors — the government that had turned down permission to the Navy to launch an offensive and free the sailors also refused to break its silence on the matter.
The government had turned down the Navy’s request for a greater role in tackling piracy by starting joint patrols off the Somali coast and launching direct action to rescue the Indians.
Naval sources said the ministry’s refusal had come in about ten days ago when it finally responded to their reminder. "The first offer to go on joint patrol and operation was made within days of the September 15 hijacking," an official said.
Defence Minister AK Antony had emphasised that international law did not permit the Indian Navy to move in due to the absence of an agreement with Somalia. “We are trying our best,” the minister had said. This was five days back.
“Nothing today,” the minister said on Monday, waving away reporters who asked him about the steps that the government was taking to secure the release of the Indian sailors.
The silence continued through Tuesday. The minister refused to meet a reporter from this paper who had gone to his office to ask him about the steps being taken by the government as promised last week. An aide to the minister, who was told about the issue, said the minister could not meet him.
Around the same time that the minister and the officials concerned refused to speak up on the issue, Seema Goyal — wife of Prabhat Goyal, captain of the hijacked ship — complained of government inaction.
“The government has to intervene now because the lives of the 18 people are at stake,” Goyal, who travelled from Dehradun to Delhi hoping for some reassurance and action from the Centre, said.
Russia and the US had last week dispatched warships to Somalia after a Ukrainian cargo ship carrying tanks and Russian citizens was seized by pirates off the lawless African nation.
Officials familiar with the government response said the UN Security Council resolution 1816 tied down India to a muted response since the June 2 resolution — valid for six months — only allowed states cooperating with Somalia's transitional government to enter its territorial waters.