The questioning of the arrested Somali pirates has revealed a unique modus operandi often used by high sea thugs to intercept merchant vessels and demand ransom from their owners.
According to the police, in two recent cases registered with the Yellow Gate police station, pirates targeted vessels in skiffs or small sailboats. “These pirates use vessels hijacked earlier as the mother ship. They use the radar systems on the mother ship to search for merchant vessels,” Quaiser Khalid, deputy commissioner of police (port zone) said. “Once they select their target, they anchor the mother ship at a distance and proceed to capture merchant vessel.”
On January 29, the Indian Navy had apprehended 15 Somali and Ethiopian pirates off the Lakshadweep coast when they were trying to hijack a foreign merchant vessel, MV Verdi. On February 6, 28 Somali pirates were arrested before they could hijack the Greek MV Chios, 100 nautical miles west of the Kavaratti Islands in Lakshadweep.
“In both cases, the pirates were caught in a similar way. They have an established method of hijacking,” Khalid said.
In both cases, the merchant vessels sent May day signals the moment they realised that the people on the skiffs were pirates. “The distress signals were received by the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre at Worli. The centre alerted the Naval ships on patrol,” Khalid said.
In the operation that took place on February 6, INS Tir was patrolling in the area and responded to May day signals from MV Chios. A Coast Guard vessel, ICGS Samar, joined the operations.
INS Tir also traced the skiffs back to their mother ship, Prantalaya 11. “The pirates had hijacked Prantlaya II and later used it as their mother ship,” said SPS Basra, inspector general of the Coast Guard.
According to the Coast Guard, the increased deployment of forces in the Gulf of Aden and its vicinity has forced pirates to move towards the southeast in the Indian Ocean, close to India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
“The area around the Gulf of Aden has a heavy deployment of NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation] troops which has forced pirates to change their routes,” Basra said.
Sources in the Coast Guard said the Indian EEZ is a lucrative space for pirates because most cargo sent from nations such as Malaysia and Philippines, goes through this zone. According to the Coast Guard, three piracy groups are active close to the Indian EEZ. “We have increased security in the area,” Basra said.