Indian Navy bloods itself off Somalia, sinks pirate vessel
New Delhi, Nov 19 (IANS) Operating in an offensive role in international waters for the first time, the Indian Navy scored a major success in its anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden by sinking a pirate vessel that had opened fire at a stealth frigate which was patrolling the region.
It was the second time in nine days that INS Tabar had gone to battle stations after it was fired at by a Somali pirate 'mother vessel', which went up in flames and sank in the retaliatory fire from the frigate, an official here said.
And, in an indication that it was set for a long haul in the pirate-infested region, which is vital for India as the bulk of the country's oil imports pass through it, the Indian Navy Wednesday sought coordination among the global and regional powers to combat the scourge, even as Somali pirates hijacked three more merchant vessels in the Gulf of Aden.
One of these ships was a Hong Kong-flagged vessel with 25 crewmen, including some from India, on board.
'INS Tabar encountered a pirate vessel south west of Oman with two speedboats in tow. This vessel was similar in description to the 'mother vessel' mentioned in various piracy bulletins. INS Tabar closed in on the vessel and asked her to stop for investigation,' Indian Navy spokesperson Commander Nirad Sinha said.
Following repeated calls, the vessel threatened to blow up the INS Tabar if it closed in.
'Pirates were seen roaming on the upper deck of the vessel with guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers. The vessel continued threatening calls and subsequently fired upon INS Tabar,' Sinha said.
INS Tabar, which is also equipped with the Israeli Barak missiles, opened up with its medium machine gun, a closing-in weapon and capable of firing 4,500-5,000 rounds per minute. The episode, which began late Tuesday evening, continued for three-four hours.
'On being fired upon, INS Tabar retaliated in self defence and opened fire on the mother vessel. As a result, fire broke out on the pirate vessel and explosions were heard, possibly due to exploding ammunition that was stored on the vessel,' Sinha added.
Amidst all the action, the two speedboats broke off and escaped.
'INS Tabar chased the first boat which was later found abandoned. The other boat made good its escape into darkness,' Sinha added.
INS Tabar had, in a daring rescue mission last week, foiled an attempt by pirates to hijack two ships - and Indian and a Saudi Arabian merchant vessel.
INS Tabar has been patrolling the Gulf of Aden since Nov 2. During this period, she has successfully escorted approximately 35 ships, including a number of foreign flagged vessels, safely during their transit through pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden.
Somali pirates have attempted 95 hijackings this year alone, a 75 percent increase since 2007. They are currently holding 13 ships captive in the Somali ports of Eyl and Hobyo in the Gulf of Aden.
Also on Tuesday, Somali pirates seized a Hong Kong registered merchant vessel with 25 crewmembers on board, including some Indians. The vessel, carrying 35,000 tonnes of wheat was headed for the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas from Hong Kong.
'We are in touch with the concerned maritime authorities but so far we do not have the exact number of Indians and other details of the ship,' National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI) spokesman Sunil Nair told IANS in Mumbai.
The pirates also seized a Greek ship and a Kiribati-flagged fishing boat.
Speaking about the need for coordinated patrolling, an Indian Navy officer here said: 'Driven by economic considerations, the navies of several countries including the US, Russia, Malaysia, and some European countries have sent their ships to protect their own shipping.
'The pirates are taking advantage of the safety provided by the Somali coastline - the longest in the Gulf of Aden - and a lack of formal agreement between the concerned nations on conducting joint operations,' the officer added, speaking on condition of anonymity.
'We try to coordinate patrols with the other countries but it is done at an informal level,' the officer pointed out.
The navy has also stressed the importance of a regional conclave like the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), an endeavour of the Indian Navy to bring together the littoral countries of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
'The countries in the IOR have an interest in keeping the Gulf of Aden free of pirates. Hence a conclave like IONS can be a platform to launch a formal agreement to combat piracy,' the officer maintained.
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