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Indian Navy to the rescue

The Indian Navy anchored a dramatic rescue mission off the Somali coast after the RAK Africana, a merchant ship freed by Somali pirates on March 9, almost risked being captured again because its engines had failed. Rahul Singh reports.

delhi Updated: Mar 11, 2011 23:56 IST
Rahul Singh

The Indian Navy anchored a dramatic rescue mission off the Somali coast after the RAK Africana, a merchant ship freed by Somali pirates on March 9, almost risked being captured again because its engines had failed. The vessel hijacked last April, with 23 crewmembers onboard including 11 Indians, was released after its owners forked out a huge ransom.

The mission was executed by an Italian warship, part of the UK-based European Union Naval Force Somalia (EU NAVFOR). The Indian Navy swung into action at 11:30 am on March 9 after it received information from the India's directorate general of Shipping that the RAK Africana was marooned in Somali waters due to engine trouble. It established contact with the ship's skipper who confirmed that the vessel was at anchorage and its crew had to be evacuated.

A navy official said that the Indian Navy mustered international navies operating close to the notorious Somali port of Harardhere and simultaneously contacted EU NAVFOR and Bahrain-headquartered Combined Task Force 151 to chalk out a rescue mission.

Even as the navies went into a huddle over the sudden crisis, it emerged at around 4 pm on March 9 that the RAK Africana could sink as large amounts of water had entered the ship from a hole in the hull.

The navy official said, "The situation was pretty grave as the pumps being used to drain out the water were about to run out of fuel. The captain informed us that the vessel could stay afloat only for a few hours."

On the heels of the alert sounded by the Indians, the EU NAVFOR warship Spanish frigate Canarias was sent to assist the marooned vessel and was later joined by the Italian warship ITS Zeffiro. The navy official said the Zeffiro established contact with the Indian Navy and kicked off the rescue effort at around 8 pm on March 9. The crew included six Pakistanis and eight Tanzanians.