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Anti-Piracy Operations:INDIAN NAVY GETS A NEW EDGE, by Radhakrishna Rao,15 January 2009 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 15 January 2009

Anti-Piracy Operations


By Radhakrishna Rao

The Navy’s long-cherished plan to provide security in the Indian Ocean region and emerge as a “blue water sea power” received a big boost with the successful accomplishment of a string of anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. The Gulf allows ships moving between Asia and Europe to access the Suez Canal without having to travel all around the African continent. The swift anti-piracy action, besides demonstrating force projection by the Navy has earned the country a great diplomatic leverage.

 “Ten years from now, India could be real provider of security to all the islands in the Indian Ocean region. In particular, the Navy keeps a hawk eye on the Sri Lanka-based Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who sneak into Tamil Nadu across the Palk Bay. In addition, the energy assets in the form of oil wells in the waters around India need to be protected from terrorist threat” says Ashley Tellis, a scholar at Carnegie Endowment for Peace in Washington.

The dramatic emergence of Eyl, a one time fishing hamlet in the north eastern part of the poorly-governed and dysfunctional Sudan, as a pirate capital of the world has become as much a threat to the Indian shipping vessels and tankers as to the international maritime traffic passing through. According to the International Maritime Bureau, 16,000 ships sail through Gulf of Aden each year. In particular, Indian shipping companies were finding it difficult to provide insurance cover for the vessels sailing through this route on account of a hefty premium.

Considering that about 200 Indian merchant vessels ply in international waters daily, the Indian National Ship Owners Association approached the Government seeking an action plan to ensure the safety of Indian-owned ships and tankers in the Gulf of Aden. At about the same time, the Government was concerned over the hijacking of Japanese-owned chemical tanker which had 18 Indian sailors onboard in this strategic sea lane. This was how the Indian Navy was authorized to patrol the Gulf of Aden to ensure the safety of Indian-owned ships.

And, in November last, the Navy’s stealth frigate INS Tabar, a Russian Krivak-III class guided missile vessel, sank a pirate vessel and in another incident rescued two merchant vessels—one belonging to India and the other to Saudi Arabia-- from being hijacked by pirates. And, in December last, the 69,000-tonne warship INS Mysore carrying aboard helicopters and equipped with missiles and a range of weapons rescued the M.V.Gibe vessel, nabbed by sea brigands along with their arms and ammunitions.

The INS Mysore has once again demonstrated its prowess this New Year eve by rescuing an Indian merchant vessel from being hijacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden. Apparently, after getting a distress call from the vessel M.V.Abdul Kalam, the INS Mysore requested a Saudi naval ship, which was close to the Indian merchant vessel to intervene and a Saudi naval helicopter chased away the pirates.

 While stable and comparatively rich East Asian countries have committed their naval and coastal security forces to stamp out the menace of piracy in Malacca Strait, the narrow sea lane between Indonesia and Malaysia. However, the Gulf of Aden considered one of the most sensitive check-posts in the global commerce, had for long remained totally unguarded against the menace of well-armed sea pirates. “The area is much bigger” says Rand Corporation’s Peter Chalk, author of a recent study on piracy and terrorism at sea, “You do not have that kind of regional cooperation now and you have a huge void of governance in Somalia. All of those factors make dealing with this problem that much more difficult”.

Meanwhile, the Navy has urged the Government to allow it a free hand so that it can go on a hot pursuit of sea brigands and prosecute them if caught. However, Defence Ministry Antony has ruled out giving “full authorization” to the Navy saying that “hot pursuit of pirates has wider implications”.  Antony is quick to note that the deployment of naval ships in the Gulf of Aden was aimed at ensuring merchant ships and tankers safety passing through.

Notwithstanding the deployment of an Indian warship in the Gulf of Aden, the Government is yet to come out with a comprehensive roadmap for ensuring a credible response to piracy in the Indian Ocean region. On its part, New Delhi is seriously considering three possible options to make commercial shipping in the area safer. One way to combat piracy is by strengthening the presence of the naval force by deploying a large number of ships around the Gulf of Aden. This view is supported by a section of the defence establishment. However, considerable amount of naval diplomacy would be required before this task can be accomplished.

The second option is to have a warship join an international coalition battling piracy. India is also considering the third option of a regional response that would include deployment of warships and sharing of information by countries belonging to the Indian Ocean region.

Meanwhile, India has supported a proposed new UN resolution calling on all countries with a stake in maritime safety to send naval ships and military aircraft to fight piracy on the high seas off the coast of Somalia. However, NATO countries have made it clear that they are not willing to be a part of an anti-piracy force under UN command.

Well, most of India’s foreign trade must perforce traverse two waterways, the Suez Canal on the west, which handles about 7% of the world’s oil trade each year  and the Strait of Malacca on the east which accounts for about a quarter of the total global trade. If either of these portals is affected not only the country’s trade but its vital supplies such as crude oil are seriously affected. If both of these are to be kept operational all the times, they must be freed from the scourge of piracy from which they now suffer.

India, with its vast maritime interests has much to offer to friendly maritime nations in the form of cooperation, which could extend from human resources management and training to ship building, ship repair, intelligence sharing, surveillance and other measures against common threat of terror and piracy. Indeed, Navy Chief Admiral Suresh Mehta has made it abundantly clear that “Indian naval ships operating in piracy-infested areas have the capability to intervene by air or with ship borne weapons. The mandate is to ensure the safety of our sovereign assets.”

Meanwhile, in keeping with becoming a true blue water naval power, the Navy is going in for a massive modernization. It is planning to make extensive use of satellite capabilities for surveillance and reconnaissance. Further, it is in discussion with the ISRO for a full fledged satellite. Even as the retrofitted aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, renamed INS Vikramaditya, will join the Navy by 2012, India’s homegrown aircraft carrier is now under development at Cochin shipyard at Kochi. And, as part of a landmark deal New Delhi signed with the American defence and aerospace giant Boeing, the Navy will get eight P-81 long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft equipped for anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare.

Not surprisingly then, India has declared the Indian Ocean to be its strategic backyard. When deadly tsunami struck in Dec.2004, it was the naval ships to first rush relief and aid to Indonesia and Sri Lanka. In June 2006, it was an Indian naval warship which was dispatched to evacuate citizens trapped in this Lebanon crisis. And, in May 2008, when cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar, it was the Indian naval ships that first delivered aid. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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