India, making all out efforts to seek the safe release of 53 sailors held by Somali pirates, Friday also tweaked its navy's rules of engagement against pirates in the Indian Ocean, widening the scope of its offensive operations but within the framework of international laws of the seas.
The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which met here under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, approved a series of measures including legal, administrative and operation aspects of combating piracy.
"The Cabinet Committee on Security met today (Friday) and considered proposals with regard to conduct of anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia," External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said in the Lok Sabha.
"The committee approved a series of measures which will be taken by the government of India to address the legal, administrative and operational aspects of combating piracy," he said in a statement.
"A broad policy framework covering all these aspects was approved. This would involve actions that would be taken in the medium- and long-term by the ministries of shipping, external affairs and defence," he added.
Among the decisions at the meeting include formulation of suitable standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the navy and for its coordination with other navies engaged in the anti-piracy operations.
"Formulation of suitable standard operating procedures for the Indian Navy and coordination of the Indian Navy's activities with the navies of friendly foreign countries in the Gulf of Aden" was among the decision of the CCS, Krishna said.
An inter-ministerial group headed by the cabinet secretary would be formed to act as an apex forum to monitor early release of Indian ships or crew or cargo hijacked by pirates from now on and this group would also consider welfare measures necessitated after the release of hijacked Indian nationals, he added.
The CCS also specifically considered the immediate situation arising out of 53 Indian sailors held hostage on five hijacked ships by pirates and resolved that the government would take all appropriate action to safeguard their welfare. "The committee expressed its sympathy with the families of the hostages," Krishna said.
Among the actions approved by the CCS are intensifying diplomatic efforts, both at the multilateral level and within the framework of the United Nations, through consultations with the governments of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, where the owners of hijacked vessels reside, as well as with the governments of other nationalities, who are also being held as hostages, to ensure quicker negotiation to obtain the sailors' freedom.
Government officials said the CCS gave its nod to the measures that navy had put forth -- that it be provided powers to take all action with the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas and in consonance with the best practices of other navies that are patrolling the Gulf of Aden and off Somali coast.
"The navy's action will be as per necessity and proportionality of the piracy situation it encounters while on patrol. Rules of Engagement for every possible situation during a pirate attack and hostage crises has been considered and operational options has given," the official, who did not want to be named, said.
Rules of Engagement are set of regulations and action proposed for the armed forces before they are sent into operations that may involve defensive and offensive actions against enemies.
The Indian navy has been on anti-piracy patrols along the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) in the Gulf of Aden since November 2008 and the Arabian Sea off Lakshadweep since November 2010 and during these operations, Indian warships have sunk three mother ships of pirates, apprehended over 50 brigands and safely escorted over 1,500 cargo vessels, including 300 Indian-flagged.
With pirates now operating all over the Indian Ocean far away from the Somali coast, the navy will now get more involved in the anti-piracy efforts through out the region, as 90 percent of India's trade pass through the sea lanes here and is also vital for the nation's energy security that is so dependent on supplies from the Gulf countries.