Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Indian Navy Acts in Gulf of Aden

Indian Warship INS Tabar—whose name means battle-axe in Sanskrit—sank a Somali pirate vessel in the Gulf of Aden late on Nov. 18 after it was attacked. The pirate vessel is the first hostile ship sunk by the Navy after the 1971 Indo-Pak war.
The pirates fired on INS Tabar after being intercepted and asked for identification. The Navy retaliated in self-defence. As a result of heavy machine-gun fire by INS Tabar, a fire broke out on the pirate vessel and explosions were heard due to exploiding ammunition stored on the vessel.
This incident, i.e., the sinking of a pirate 'mother ship' by the Indian naval stealth frigate, INS Tabar has given a ray of hope on the seemingly intractable crisis of a hijacking spree near the Horn of Africa. As the volume and scale of piracy along the Somalia-Yemen-Oman waters increased, the victim companies and their respective govern­ments were in a major quan­dry about the appropriate response.
Complex Issue
Most countries prefer to avoid tackle piracy as it is a complex issue. For instance, a ship might be built in one country, fly flag of another and have a crew of different na­tiona­­­­­lities. So, the governments let the shipping companies handle the nego­tia­tions when a ship is hijacked. As a result, even today the pirates are holding the world to ransom. On top of it, the modern technology has actually helped those who ply this ancient trade. Pirates now have advance information about ships, commu­ni­cate via satellite phones, carry sophisticated weapons and use fast speedboats. However, their modus operandi remains almost similar to their earlier counterparts, i.e., operating stealthily and swiftly.
Pre-emptive Action
The Indian Navy's pre-emptive action came in praise from all quarters particularly because once the pirates have boarded a ship, little action can be taken for fear of hurting hostages on board.
Indian Navy had earlier rescued Japan's ships from pirates in the Straits of Malacca and had also escorted coalition ships during Opera­tion Enduring Freedom in the after­math of the 9/11 attacks. But countries like Malaysia and Indonesia contested the presence of India in these waters. However, when the 2004 tsunami struck, Indian naval ships were the first to reach with relief and aid to Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Again, when Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar in May 2008, the Indain ships first delivered aid. These actions combined together with INS Tabar's downing of a pirate ship, show that India is not in the business of territorial acquisitions.
The Indian Navy's act has to be seen in light of the expressed helpless­ness and shock by the world's strong­est navy - that of the United States - when pirates seized a Saudi Supertan­ker, thrice as larger as an aircraft carrier, that was transporting crude oil worth $100 million. The robustness and alacrity with which Indian commandos sprung into action contra­st­ed with the overcautious and clueless attitude of other international naval forces. India's usage of guided missiles and cannons at the targets sets an example for the other multi­national navies which have been pondering about the complexity of the challenge.
The International Maritime Bure­au's Piracy Reporting Centre at Kuala Lumpur had praised the deft action by Indian Navy and advocated all foreign Navies present in the African waters to conduct stop and search operations like India did, as it will be a strong deterrent and help in stamping out the spiralling piracy in the Gulf of Aden.
Importance of the Task
Piracy is nothing but a high-seas equivalent of street crime. Up to 20,000 vessels sail through the Gulf every year, or 250 per day. One-sixth of the entire crew of the world's merchant navy is Indian. Hence, it is must to make Gulf safe for shipping.
Navies can act against pirates on the high seas but international laws and UN Security Council resolutions 1816, authorises only states cooperat­ing with Somalia's transition­al govern­ment to enter its territorial waters and chase the pirates. Though an informal agreement has been reached with the Somalian govern­ment which lets Indian Navy to enter its waters under certain circum­stances, India has called for a UN peacekeeping force under a unified command to prevent piracy off Somalia in a concerted manner.
The Reality
The area between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea is so huge that no nation or navy by itself can patrol the huge area and fight the pirates. India has, thus thrown a challenge to the UN to take an innovative action as the UN has never been part of 'only marine' mission. As Indian Navy has shown, the action would have to be a way of using radio frequency identification to check the intent of vessels and ways of reacting to resistance including armed action. At the same time, some amount of caution would be required to double-check wether a mother-vessel has crew of a hijacked ship on board. It is because mother-vessels are generally ships captured earlier for ransom by the pirates.

INS Tabar : A Fact File
* Was commissioned in 2004. Has crew of 180
* Its Russian Kashtan close-in weapon system comprises six-barrelled 30 mm guns that fire 10,000 rounds a minute, and missiles
* Is armed with Shtil surface-to-air missiles
* Has Klub cruise missiles to destroy submarines, ships more than 200 km away
* Speed: 56 kmph

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