The merchant ship, MT Stolt Valor, with 18 Indian crew members on board, was hijacked by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden on September 15. Three weeks later, the Indian government still has no clear plan on how to bring its citizens safely home. New Delhi’s foot-dragging has led to the reduction of the ransom demand from the pirates. But, in the absence of a proactive strategy or policy, it could be months before the hostages are released. This is not how it should be, especially when India keeps saying that it is a growing power.
Though the Indian Navy has been raring to ‘disengage the situation’, New Delhi has been pussyfooting on the issue. While acknowledging the grave threat of piracy and assuring the media that a “serious attempt” was being made to secure the hostages’ release, Defence Minister A.K. Antony continues to find an excuse in the fact that India has no pact with Somalia, in whose waters the ship is currently docked. Might we remind the minister that there is no Somali government to speak of.
If, as stressed by the government, the policy of ‘hot pursuit’ comes with unacceptable fallouts, then it is time to think of some viable options other than thumb-twiddling. Somali pirates, thriving along the lawless nation’s coastline, have hijacked over two dozen ships in the last two months. Most countries are now tackling the problem head-on. French commandos rescued a hijacked French couple from Somali pirates only last month. A similarly quick response was evident in the dispatch of a Russian warship to the rescue of a ship carrying T-72 tanks and three Russian citizens, hijacked by Somali pirates ten days after the capture of Stolt Valor.
But all our Defence Minister has to offer is the excuse that if incidents like this keep happening, there isn’t much that India can do. Such a policy is no policy at all. One is not asking New Delhi to storm Somalia. But surely, it can do something in taking some action to protect its own citizens.