Navy to stalk, not strike at pirates

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By SUJAN DUTTA
  • Published 4.03.11
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New Delhi, March 3: Defence minister A.K. Antony today said the Indian Navy would not take offensive action to free Indian sailors who have been taken hostage by suspected Somali pirates but was intensifying its co-ordination with international navies.

The Indian Navy is now forward deployed in the Middle East after launching “Operation Blossom” — as reported by The Telegraph on Thursday.

The navy chief, Admiral Nirmal Verma, said the INS Jalaswa was pulled out of a major tri-service exercise Tropex 2011 because the evacuation of Indians from Libya and the deployment in West Asia were responses to a “national emergency”.

The navy chief also said it was “standard operating procedure” for all ships sailing to West Asia to carry specialist troops. Indian Marine Commandos (Marcos) are on board the INS Jalaswa, the INS Mysore and the INS Aditya, which have been tasked under “Op Blossom”.

“As a standard routine now, when we send ships to this area, we have marine commandos on board. If there is a requirement that ever arises to protect the ships or passengers we are carrying and if that requires skills where the commandos are required, they will act,” he said.

The defence minister and the navy chief were speaking on the sidelines of a seminar on hydrography in New Delhi on Thursday.

“Op Blossom” was planned because threat perceptions from West Asia had magnified after regime-changing or regime-threatening upheavals from Tunisia, through Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain.

Defence minister A.K. Antony also said that Somalia in Africa was “in a sorry state of affairs”. Suspected Somali pirates have taken nine Indians and the rest of the 22-member crew of an Iranian merchant vessel, the MV Sinan, hostage since February 12.

Antony said that the Indian government was not in any negotiation to meet the demand of ransom from the pirates.

“Efforts (to contain piracy) are going on… there are 18 navies. More and more co-ordination is there between all nations. Even though we are finding it difficult to contain them, we will be able to succeed ultimately. We will not let up,” the defence minister said.

The INS Jalaswa and the INS Mysore, the Indian warships tasked to the Mediterranean, were expected to reach Alexandria in Egypt on March 8. Admiral Verma said the ships and civilian and military aircraft would try to build a “sea-air” bridge to evacuate Indians to Malta and from Malta back to the country.

About 7,000 Indians were said to have been evacuated in special Air India flights and on two chartered vessels.

Asked if the navy missed INS Jalaswa in a major exercise in the Arabian Sea, he said it would have been good if the troop carrier had participated in the war game, but the evacuation of Indians from Libya was a national emergency for which the ship’s services were needed.