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Merchant ships may have armed guards onboard

delhi Updated: Mar 15, 2011 20:43 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
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With piracy assuming menacing proportions in Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden, the government is mulling over a proposal to deploy armed guards onboard Indian merchant ships to thwart hijacking bids.

Navy sources on Tuesday confirmed that the proposal mooted by the shipping ministry to combat the epidemic of piracy was under consideration and a final decision would be taken after discussions among the ministries of defence, law and shipping.

Currently, 53 Indian seafarers onboard five different ships remain in the captivity of pirates, who have been emboldened by a string of successful hijackings. The sources said the idea was to replicate on the high seas the concept of sky marshals deployed on commercial aircraft to prevent hijackings.

The hostage crisis off the Somali coast has lent urgency to the government’s plans to fight the scourge of piracy. The government last week announced the setting up of an apex group under the cabinet secretary to monitor the early release of Indian sailors or vessels hijacked by pirates.

Countries such as Yemen and Malta have reportedly authorised merchant vessels to deploy armed guards to keep ransom-hungry pirates away. The navy, which launched anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden in October 2008, is backing the plan floated by the shipping ministry as it would act as a deterrent.

The government has also conferred additional powers on the navy to rescue hijacked Indian merchant vessels and crew. The rules of engagement allow the navy to storm a hijacked Indian vessel in international waters if its crew is in the safe room. The navy has prevented several hijacking attempts in the Arabian Sea and arrested more than 100 Somali pirates during the last three months.

However, there are no specific laws in the country to deal with the arrested pirates. The sources said the pirates were arrested for attempt to murder and trying to damage government property.