The Indian Navy has stepped up anti-piracy operations amid the ongoing crisis in the Red Sea sparked by attacks on ships by Yemen-based Houthis. The Indian Navy’s offshore patrol ship INS Sumitra carried out a second anti-piracy operation in less than 36 hours to rescue fishing vessel (FV) Al Naeemi, with 19 Pakistani crew on board, after apprehending 11 armed Somali pirates, a Navy spokesperson said.

INS Sumitra, through swift and relentless effort, has rescued two hijacked fishing vessels along with 36 crew (17 Iranian and 19 Pakistani) in the southern Arabian Sea, approximately 850 nm west of Kochi, and prevented the misuse of the vessels as mother ships for further acts of piracy on merchant vessels, the spokesperson stated.

Besides that, the Indian Navy said it also joined a multinational response to free a Sri Lankan fishing vessel, sailing with six crew members, from hijacking east of Mogadishu, Somalia. The Indian Navy, in collaboration with Seychelles Defence Forces and Sri Lanka Navy, successfully intercepted and rescued fishing trawler ‘LORENZO PUTHA 04’ about 955 nautical miles east of Mogadishu from three pirates who had boarded it on January 27, the spokesperson said.

The Indian Navy deployed INS Sharada ex Kochi on the night of January 28 and also tasked HALE Sea Guardian to locate and intercept the hijacked fishing vessel. “Efficient operational coordination and Information Sharing through the Sri Lanka and Seychelles International Liaison Officers at IFC IOR, New Delhi, resulted in the interception of the hijacked fishing vessel by SCGS Topaz in Seychelles EEZ on January 29,” he elaborated.

The Indian Navy’s proactive efforts to secure the maritime passage received praise from External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who attributed India’s “greater capability”, “influence”, and “reputation” to its first responder role in the maritime crisis.

“The Indian Navy has deployed ten ships today in that region because we got a double problem, we got a piracy problem, and we’ve got a missile drone problem. If you look, even in the last few days, actually one of our ships...extinguished a fire and rescued the crew of a tanker, which had taken a drone today... It rescued Pakistani and Iranian fishermen from pirates. I feel today that India’s greater capability, our own influence and our reputation today warrant that we actually help out in difficult situations. We will not be considered a responsible country if bad things are happening around our neighbourhood...Believe me, people look at us much more warmly, and much more friendly as a result of what we do now,” the Minister said at a function in Mumbai.

On January 28, INS Sumitra, deployed for anti-piracy and maritime security operations east of Somalia and Gulf of Aden, responded to a distress message related to the hijacking of Iranian-flagged FV Iman by pirates. INS Sumitra rescued the vessel and crew in the early hours of Monday using standard operating procedures (SOPs) and coercive posturing, the Navy informed. The vessel was sanitised and released for onward sail.

INS Sumitra was again pressed into action to locate and intercept another Iranian-flagged FV, Al Naeemi, hijacked by pirates. “Responding swiftly to the developing situation, INS Sumitra intercepted the FV on Monday night and, through coercive posturing and effective deployment of her integral helo and boats, compelled the safe release of the crew and the vessel,” the Navy spokesperson said. The Navy officials, according to him, also went over to sanitise the vessel and check on the well-being of the rescued crew.

The Indian Navy said it has once again proved its commitment in the region to act against all maritime threats and ensure the safety of all mariners and vessels at sea. Chief of Naval Staff Admiral R Hari Kumar had said that in the last 40 to 42 days, 35 drone attacks took place on ships either owned or linked to Israel, mainly in the Red Sea, North Arabian Sea, and Central Arabian Sea, businessline reported on January 10. The Indian Navy is forensically examining samples of debris from drones collected from three targetted vessels to identify the origin of the attack, he had pointed out.

The annual ‘Piracy and Armed Robbery Report of the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB)‘ released on January 11, also raised concern over Somali-based hijacking. The report stated that 120 incidents of maritime piracy and armed robbery against ships were recorded in 2023, compared to 115 in 2022. Of these, the annual report pointed out that 105 vessels were boarded by hijackers, nine attempted attacks took place, four vessels were hijacked, and two were fired upon.

Though the rise in crime was not that high, the IMB cautioned for safety, given that the number of crew taken hostage and kidnapped increased from 41 to 73 and from two to 14 in 2022 and 2023, respectively, its report available on the Bureau website revealed. Additionally, a further 10 crew were threatened, four were injured, and one assaulted in 2023, the report added.