The Coast Guard on Monday said piracy was moving closer to India’s shores and investigating agencies were probing if Somali pirates had any links with Pakistan-based terror groups.
In the first major anti-piracy operation closest to India’s shores, the navy and coast guard last week sank a pirate ship near Lakshadweep, rescued 20 fishermen and arrested 15 Somali pirates.
Coast Guard director general Vice Admiral Anil Chopra said, “When piracy is so close to India, there would be speculation about any such linkages (between pirates and Pakistan-based groups). Intelligence agencies are investigating all the people who are captured to establish if there is any connection.” He said the pirates posed threat to merchant vessels transiting between India and the Maldives.
He was addressing the media on the eve of the coast guard’s 34th anniversary. Chopra said Somali pirates had started moving eastwards from the Gulf of Aden due to increased presence of international navies there. The pirates arrested on Friday are being brought to Mumbai for interrogation.
The big catch came two months after the navy launched its biggest anti-piracy drive off India’s west coast. The pirates had been on the prowl in the eastern parts of Arabian Sea since last April after they hijacked a Thai vessel, the Prantalay, and were using it as a mother vessel for carrying out a wave of attacks on merchant vessels.
The INS Cankarso, a fast attack craft, intercepted the mother ship 370 km off the Kochi coast on Friday, but the pirates opened fire with automatic weapons in a desperate bid to escape. Prantalay burst into flames and sank after the navy retaliated with “limited fire in self defence.” The incident took place just 165 km north of Minicoy in Lakshadweep.
INS Kalpeni and Coast Guard Ship Sankalp also took part in the operation. Defence minister AK Antony inaugurated two coast guard stations in Lakshadweep last month, reinforcing India’s maritime security architecture.
The navy had launched four warships last November to sanitise the eastern parts of the Arabian Sea after a spurt of piracy attempts reported by transiting merchant vessels. Helicopters and patrol aircraft are supporting the warships, with marine commandos onboard. The navy has been carrying out anti-piracy patrols in the international waters off the Gulf of Aden since October 2008.