Indian warship INS Tabar — whose name means battle axe in Sanskrit — sank a Somali pirate vessel in the Gulf of Aden late on Tuesday after being attacked.
Emboldened by raking in millions of dollars in ransom, the pirates were on the prowl for potential targets about 528 km southwest of Salalah in Oman. The navy became suspicious because the description of the vessel matched that of mother vessels used by pirates. The pirates were seen roaming on the deck, armed with automatic guns and grenade launchers.
The pirates fired on INS Tabar after being intercepted and asked for identification. The navy said it retaliated in self-defence. “As a result of heavy machinegun fire by INS Tabar, fire broke out on the pirate vessel and explosions were heard, possibly due to exploding ammunition stored on the vessel,” said its spokesperson.
As the vessel was sinking, pirates launched two speedboats to escape. “The warship chased the first boat which was later found abandoned,” said the spokesperson. “The other disappeared.”
On November 11, the same warship had foiled two hijack attempts in the Gulf of Aden — the world’s most dangerous waters for commercial shipping. It has been patrolling the waters since October 23.
The pirate vessel is the first hostile ship to have been sunk by the navy after the 1971 Indo-Pak war.
The mother vessels used by pirates are usually hijacked fishing boats. They are difficult to spot among the thousands of such boats on the high seas.
Indian warships can patrol the Gulf of Aden but cannot enter the territorial waters of Somalia. Under a UN Security Council resolution, only states cooperating with Somalia’s transitional government can enter its territorial waters to check acts of piracy and armed robbery using force.
In three weeks, INS Tabar has successfully escorted about 35 ships, including many foreign flagged vessels, through the pirate-infested waters. The area covers 2.5 million square miles of sea and is impossible to patrol effectively.
India wants the United Nations to take steps to prevent piracy attacks off the Somali coast by constituting a peacekeeping force. It has expressed concern over the disjointed efforts of different navies patrolling the Gulf of Aden, which accounts for 12 per cent of the world’s seaborne oil trade and 50 per cent of world’s seaborne dry bulk transportation.
Pirates are currently negotiating ransoms for about 15 ships held in so-called pirate ports along the Somali coast.