Barely a week after the Union cabinet gave a green signal to more stringent action against sea pirates, the Indian Navy launched its biggest anti-piracy operation in recent times and rescued 13 sailors held hostage by alleged Somali pirates and nabbed 61 of them for attacking merchant ships.
The pirates are being brought to Mumbai onboard the Indian Naval Ship (INS) Tabar and will be handed over to the Mumbai Police for detention and questioning. They are likely to reach Mumbai on March 15. The nationalities of the hostages is yet to be ascertained.
The operation started on March 11, when a naval Dornier aircraft responded to a distress call by a merchant ship, MV Vancouver Bridge, around 600 nautical miles from the west coast and 400 miles from Lakshadweep.
After spotting the aircraft, the pirates aborted their mission and started fleeing towards the mother vessel, Vega 5, a Mozambique flagged vessel which was hijacked on December 28.
INS Khukri, a missile corvette, and INS Kalpeni, a fast attack craft, were then deployed to intercept the pirate vessel. On March 12 night, Kalpeni closed in on Vega 5 after which the pirates launched two skiffs and fired at Kalpeni. Kalpeni returned fire, which led to a fire breaking out on Vega 5 and its crew was seen jumping overboard into the sea.
“Mother vessels usually carry huge quantity of fuel in barrels and drums. During the firing, the fuel could have caught fire,” said a defence spokesperson.
This is third such operation when pirates are being brought to Indian soil — the earlier operations took place on January 28 and February 5.
Defence minister AK Antony on Monday in the parliament that the number of ships hijacked since January 14, 2008, is 174.
“Piracy on the Somali coast is a global menace and has in recent times moved eastward as well as southward,” said Antony, and added that naval ships are regularly deployed for surveillance close to the coast.
It has also come to light that the pirates were carrying large quantity of firearms which comprise AK 47 rifles, and rocket propelled guns (RPGs).
The location of the attack is one of the most important focal point of global trade and a large number of merchant ships sail this route.
Deputy commissioner of police, port zone, Quaiser Khalid, said, “Though we have yet not received official information on whether the nabbed pirates will be handed over to us or to police officials in Kochi, if they are, this time we will not seek custody of all of them, and will select only the kingpin.”