Indian Navy’s anti-piracy steps gain momentum
India's top priority remains protection of its lucrative trade and petroleum routes that come through northern Arabian Sea and western Indian Ocean.
The Indian Navy has its hands full, quite literally.
On February 2, the Navy did what it has been doing successfully since 2008, but with extra vigour in the last couple of years. It thwarted yet another assault on a foreign fishing vessel off the coast of Somalia by pirates from the war-torn African country.
That day, the Iranian vessel FV Omaril found itself under siege by Somalian pirates, but the Indian Navy aircraft swiftly neutralized the imminent threat in the early hours of the day.
Responding to the call, INS Sharda, specializing in anti-piracy operations, rapidly altered its course to intercept the FV Omaril. In a short time, it compelled the pirates to release the vessel and its crew, consisting of 11 Iranians and eight Pakistanis, unharmed.
On January 30, 2024, the Navy conducted two anti-piracy operations in the Arabian Sea off Somalia and rescued two hijacked fishing vessels along with a 36-member crew, according to an official statement.
The Navy said that Indian ship Sumitra, deployed for anti-piracy and maritime security operations, rescued crew from two vessels hijacked by pirates. In another operation off the East Coast of Somalia, fishing vessel Al Naeemi and her crew, 19 Pakistani nationals were rescued from the clutches of 11 Somali pirates.
The Navy’s prompt action against piracy bids in the Arabian Sea is increasingly catching momentum, primarily around the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa of which Somalia is the leading country.
The Minister of State (MoS) for Defence Ajay Bhatt informed the Parliament last week that seven incidents of hijacking of vessels on high seas by pirates have been reported during the last three years and Indian Navy has been proactively engaging with the regional and extra-regional navies and maritime forces.
According to an official statement, “for restoring maritime security in the region, enhanced presence of ships, aerial surveillance by maritime patrol aircraft, RPA in the Central Arabian Sea and Off East of Coast of Somalia is being undertaken by Indian Navy.’’
In addition, interrogation of fishing vessels/ dhows operating in the region is also being undertaken for maintaining maritime security in the region.
Says Commodore Anil Jai Singh, a submarine veteran, and Vice President Indian Maritime Foundation: ``A vast percentage of Indian trade passes through the northern Arabian Sea and western Indian Ocean. India cannot afford to jeopardise its trade. If piracy goes up, as it did between 2008 and 2012, and is showing signs of rearing its head again, just the high insurance rates can cause huge economic losses.”
Indian Navy vessels escort merchant ships through the 490 nautical mile long Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) and thus 50 naval warships have been deployed, a statement issued by the Navy said.
That's a large number of warships, including destroyers and frigates.
MoS Bhatt told the House that ``since 2008, Indian Navy has deployed units in Gulf of Aden and East Coast of Africa towards anti-piracy patrols. A total of 3,440 ships and over 25,000 seafarers have been safely escorted.’’
As the resident naval power in the Indian Ocean, India plays a pivotal role. With over 7,500 km of coastline, 14,500 km of navigable waterways, and 212 active ports - 12 government owned and 200 immediate and minor ports- India relies heavily on the Indian Ocean for commercial and non- commercial shipping, energy importation, trade, tourism, and fishing.
The Navy therefore considers the entire Indian Ocean—from the eastern coast of Africa to the Andaman Sea—as its area of influence.
India exports to 18 of the 33 countries in the region and imports from several other countries, including Australia, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE,” noted the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in a paper last year.
The top priority for strategic planners is to protect the sea lines of communications (SLOCs) since they are the channel through which 83 per cent of India’s crude oil comes along with a gigantic slice of Indian trade.
But here lies the downside. It is India’s interest to maintain strong partnership with littoral and island nations across the region. For example, in 2021, India extended a $100-million line of credit to Mauritius for security and military spending. The same year, it inked a $50-million deal with Maldives to support the country’s coast guard development and other security infrastructure projects. In 2022, Sri Lanka and India signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a Maritime Rescue Coordination Center, an agreement that derived from India’s Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) initiative.
Now, with a not-so-friendly government in Maldives, which is willing to sup up China and offer it a naval watch post to keep an eye on India, New Delhi is naturally alert. ``China wants to get a toe hold in the Indian Ocean and it is imperative for India to keep them out. That is our challenge,” says Commodore Singh.
Seems like the Indian Navy has a busy 2024 ahead.
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