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5 Jan, 2024 09:20

India responds to hijacking of ship off Somalian coast

The country has deployed a warship to the Arabian Sea after armed men seized a vessel carrying Indian crew
India responds to hijacking of ship off Somalian coast

India’s navy said on Friday it had responded to a maritime incident in the Arabian Sea involving an attempt to hijack the Liberian-flagged bulk carrier MV Lila Norfolk, which has 15 Indian crew on board.

The vessel sent a distress call indicating that it had been boarded by up to six armed personnel on Thursday evening, the navy said. It responded by launching a Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) and sending one of its warships in the region, INS Chennai, to assist the ship. “The aircraft overflew the vessel in the early morning of [January 5] and established contact with the vessel, ascertaining the safety of the crew,” the country’s defense ministry said in a statement.

“Naval aircraft continue to monitor movement and INS Chennai is closing the vessel to render assistance.” The warship, named after the capital of southern India’s Tamil Nadu state, is the third and last ship of the Kolkata-class stealth-guided missile destroyers in the Indian Navy. The Kolkata class is India’s largest destroyer and is capable of air, surface, underwater, and electronic warfare.

The development comes weeks after another vessel, the Maltese-flagged MV Ruen, was hijacked in the area while en route from Gwangyang, South Korea. It was carrying a cargo of metals when Somalian pirates reportedly boarded near the Yemeni island of Socotra on October 15. The Indian Navy responded to a distress call, diverting an MPA that was undertaking surveillance in the area and a warship on anti-piracy patrol to locate the ship. It assisted in the evacuation of an injured crew member from the hijacked vessel.

In a separate incident last month, MV Chem Pluto, a Japanese-owned and Liberian-flagged vessel with 20 Indians on board, came under attack from suspected drones 400km west of the Indian coast, prompting New Delhi to promise “strict action” against the attackers.

In the aftermath of the incident, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said the country would ensure free trade flow in the region and collaborate with its allies to make maritime commerce “safe and secure.” At the time, the Pentagon alleged that the vessel had been targeted by a drone “fired from Iran.” Tehran, however, has strongly denied the accusation.

New Delhi has significantly increased its naval presence in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden, with five guided missile destroyers having been deployed in the region following attacks on cargo vessels by Houthi rebels based in Yemen. Earlier this week, the Indian Navy said it continues to “monitor the maritime security situation,” and Indian ships and aircraft remain on standby for maritime security operations in the region.

Meanwhile, the US has set up a naval task force with the UK, France, and other countries to protect merchant ships navigating the route.

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