Rise in Piracy; No Indian-flagged Vessel Targeted by Houthis, Says Navy Chief

Navy Chief Admiral R Hari Kumar on Saturday said piracy has “resurfaced as an industry” in the wake of the manifestation of Israel-Hamas conflict in the maritime domain, even as he emphasised that “no Indian-flagged vessel” has been targeted by the Houthis at sea. Gaza has bore the brunt of this conflict that broke out last October.

Many cargo vessels have been attacks by Houthi rebels in Red Sea and neighbouring region in the past few months. Indian Navy on Saturday said it has “responded to the manifestation of Israel-Hamas conflict in the maritime domain by reorienting and significantly enhancing the scope of its ongoing maritime security operations since mid-December last year”.

The navy undertook proactive actions during hijacking of Malta-flagged bulk carrier MV Ruen on December 14. A dramatic mid-sea operation undertaken by the Indian Navy along with the IAF recently ended the three-month hijacking of the bulk carrier with the deployment of its warship INS Kolkata, long-endurance Sea Guardian drones, P-8I surveillance aircraft and airdropping of elite MARCOS commandos from a C-17 plane.

Admiral Kumar addressed a press conference earlier in the day marking the completion of 100 days of the ongoing maritime security operations under the aegis of the phase two of ‘Op Sankalp’ which includes anti-drones, anti-missiles and anti-piracy operations.

“The 100 days of sustained ‘Op Sankalp’ has also broken the myth of short and swift operations. Therefore, there is a need to realise that we need to be able to carry forward sustained operations if we need to ensure there is need for safety, security, and stability in the oceans,” he said. The pace of operations have been quite high, the Nave chief said.

“As of yesterday, we had 11 submarines operating simultaneously at sea, we have more than 35 ships operating at sea, more than five aircraft deployed in different parts of the Indian Ocean. We are ensuring that our assets are deployed in an optimal manner to ensure it covers areas of interest. And, gives us the best information so that the maritime domain awareness and requisite degree of transparency is achieved,” he added.

He said anti-piracy action at sea had been taken by the Indian Navy in 2008 also. It had “gradually reduced” with a near lull situation between 2018 to almost October 2023.

“In October, we saw the Israel-Hamas war suddenly starting and then the attack by the Houthis had started… And some sort of disorder happened in Red Sea. I think, there were people who took this opportunity to get into piracy. And, that is how I would say this piracy has again resurfaced as an industry, I would say, to profiteer and gain from the disorder happening in that area,” the Navy chief added. “We are determined that we will not permit it and that is why we are taking affirmative action,” he asserted.

The first phase of Op Sankalp started in 2019. That was essentially to provide protection to ships coming out of the Persian Gulf, because there were some attack carried out on vessels there. “And, this we sustained with the presence of just one ship continuously.”

“Once we got information about vessels being targeted by drones, missiles and by pirates, then we renewed this ‘Op Sankalp’ into phase two part of it starting mid-December,” the Navy chief said. Red Sea to Gulf of Aden to north Arabian Sea and sea off the east coast of Somalia, this is the area where “we are operating, deployed these ships,” he said.

“So, the task is to ensure that there is safety, security and stability, so that our merchant vessels carrying essential requirements reach shores safely. And, to expedite response to live up to the expectation of being the ‘first responder’,” he said.

Asked how long will these operations continue, he said, “Till the Indian Ocean Region is not safe”. “There is no time limit you can put on it, but we will ensure that we are deployed there and we take positive, proactive, and affirmative action to ensure that the region is safe and secure,” Admiral Kumar said.

To a query on whether any Indian ship has been targeted or come close to being target by Houthis at sea, he said, “No Indian-flagged vessel” has been targeted by them. Houthis have been targeting any vessel which has “got links with Israel, either Israel-owned or Israel-flagged, or going to Israel or any linkages with Israeli business houses. That has been their targets,” the Navy chief told reporters.

They have also been targeting some of the ships that are flagged with the western countries, he said. “We have an interest in it because there are Indian crew aboard almost al these ships. Our national interests also extends to our personnel all over the world. Therefore if any of the ships are targeted, we try to help them, rescue them, provide assistance. We are not doing just for our nationals but any vessel in distress, as required by the law of the seas,” the admiral said.

He said a large number of companies have started “rerouting the ships” around the Cape of Good Hope. “And impact will be felt on us. So, we decided to take proactive actions and escort ships and make sure you are safe when you come through Red Sea,” the Navy chief said.

(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed – PTI)

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