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regular-article-logo Saturday, 15 June 2024

MARCOS secure hijacked merchant vessel with 15 Indians in North Arabian Sea

The navy deployed a warship, maritime patrol aircraft P-81, and long-range Predator MQ9B drones to carry out the operation, a day after the Liberian-flagged MV Lila Norfolk was hijacked by suspected armed pirates off Somalia’s coast in the Arabian Sea

Imran Ahmed Siddiqui New Delhi Published 06.01.24, 05:25 AM
MV Lila Norfolk, which was hijacked in the Arabian Sea near the Somalian coast.

MV Lila Norfolk, which was hijacked in the Arabian Sea near the Somalian coast. PTI picture.

The Indian Navy’s maritime commandos (MARCOs) on Friday intercepted and boarded a hijacked merchant vessel in the North Arabian Sea with 15 Indian crew members on board, during a 10-hour rescue operation in which a warship, an aircraft, helicopters and drones were deployed.

“All 21 crew, including 15 Indians, onboard the vessel were safely evacuated from the citadel,” Indian Navy spokesperson Commander Vivek Madhwal said.

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“Sanitisation by MARCOs commandos has confirmed the absence of the hijackers. The attempt of hijacking by the pirates was probably abandoned with the forceful warning by the Indian Navy’s maritime patrol aircraft and interception by naval warship."

The navy deployed a warship, maritime patrol aircraft P-81, and long-range Predator MQ9B drones to carry out the operation, a day after the Liberian-flagged MV Lila Norfolk was hijacked by suspected armed pirates off Somalia’s coast in the Arabian Sea.

The hijacking of the commercial cargo ship was reported on Thursday evening by the UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), a British military organisation that tracks the movement of vessels in strategic waterways.

The warship INS Chennai, which was in the vicinity, was diverted from its anti-piracy patrol and deployed to assist MV Lila Norfolk while a naval aircraft overflew the hijacked vessel and established contact with it. The cargo vessel was finally intercepted around 3.20pm in the North Arabian Sea.

Madhwal said INS Chennai had provided support to restore power generation and propulsion in the hijacked vessel besides assisting her in resuming her voyage to the next port of call.

“The Indian Navy’s marine commandos present onboard the mission-deployed warship boarded the merchant vessel and have carried out the sanitisation operation,” Madhwal said.

Earlier in the day, the navy had said in a statement: “Indian Navy’s Mission Deployed platforms responded swiftly to a maritime incident in Arabian Sea involving a hijacking attempt on board Liberia Flagged bulk carrier. The vessel had sent a message on UKMTO portal indicating boarding by approximately five to six unknown armed personnel in the evening on Jan 4.”

The merchant vessel, sailing from Port Du Aco in Brazil, was bound for Khalifa Bin Salman in Bahrain when it was hijacked by the pirates 300 nautical miles east of Somalia.

This is the second hijacking in the region. Last month, a Malta-flagged tanker, MV Ruen, with 18 crew members on board was hijacked by Somali pirates approximately 700 miles from the Indian coast.

There has been a series of attacks on merchant ships by Houthi rebels from Yemen in the Red Sea as well as the Arabian Sea, including on a couple of Indian-crewed vessels headed to India.

On December 23, a drone attack was reported on the chemical tanker MV Chem Pluto, which had 21 Indian crew members, approximately 220 nautical miles southwest of Porbandar. The India-bound chemical tanker was reportedly on its way from Saudi Arabia’s Jubail port to New Mangalore when it was hit by an unmanned aerial vehicle, triggering a massive onboard fire. No injury was reported.

A day later, a Gabon-flagged commercial crude oil tanker with 25 Indian crew members reportedly came under a drone attack in the Southern Red Sea. Indian officials later clarified that the commercial oil tanker was not an Indian-flagged vessel.

No casualties were reported.

The incident involving MV Chem Pluto follows a series of drone and missile attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea region by the Iran-backed Houthis, who say they are supporting the Palestinians under siege in Gaza, forcing shippers to change course and take longer routes around the southern tip of Africa.

The Houthis have targeted ships, especially those bound for Israel, since October soon after the Israel-Hamas war began.

In the wake of the growing incidents, the Indian Navy has substantially enhanced maritime surveillance efforts in the Arabian Sea and augmented force levels.

Task groups made up of destroyers and frigates have been deployed to undertake maritime security operations and provide assistance to merchant vessels in case of any incident. Aerial surveillance by long-range maritime patrol aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles has been enhanced for a complete maritime domain awareness.

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