The newly enacted Maritime Anti-Piracy Act 2022 has come in handy for Indian Navy, with 35 Somalian pirates, apprehended by the naval force from the Merchant Vessel Ruen in Arabian Sea, was handed over to Mumbai police on Saturday to try them under this law.

The Indian Navy on previous two occasions had apprehended pirates around and before 2011 and brought them to India to face trial but they walked free largely due to absence of any focussed law that included maritime jurisdiction within the legal system.

Addressing media on 100 days of successful maritime operations since first intervention in December against hijacked MV Ruen in December, Indian Navy chief Admiral R Hari Kumar described the Maritime Anti-Piracy Act as a “great enabler” for security forces like his since there was no law before that.

“Earlier we never had act and law, so it was quite nebulous when you captured and brought any pirates. Only allocated police station was in Mumbai nominated for handling of such cases.,” Chief of Naval staff told reporters.

Now all coastal police have been empowered. We now have this anti-piracy act which has been a great enabler for the security forces particularly for Navy since we are involved in anti-piracy act, he added.

According to him, the law has empowered Navy to visit boat, search and seize any suspicious vessel, craft or dhow, and very few countries have this kind of act.

Kumar stated that this is the largest operation done by Indian Navy in the last ten years. It lasted over 40 hours after commencing from the early hours of March 15, 2024, when INS Kolkata engaged MV Ruen in the Arabian Sea, which was being used as mothership for piracy by Somalian pirates after they hijacked it in December. The pirates opened fire, forcing Navy personnel to use guns in self-defence compelling them to surrender.

Explaining why the maritime geography has become friendly for pirates and Houthi rebels to operate, Navy chief stated that ships come through a narrow strip of sea called Babe el-Mandep to reach Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

It’s a choke point and when the ships pass through up and down they are very close to land and all ships use AIS (Automated Identification System) which gives out identity, like origin of the ship, uploaded cargo, he stated. “This information is available world wide. Therefore, in Yemen it’s easy to find out information and monitor ships passing by.. That’s how they identify and start targeting,” the Admiral remarked.

Locally manufactured drones used

Houthi rebels of Yemen are targetting ships with ballistic missiles, normal shore to ship missiles and drones. They have been using drones for surveillance and targeting with explosives as well.

“Now a days its very easy to manufacture drones. One of the drones we recovered from a vessel, it had capability to travel 1600 km, was made of plywood and powered by four-stroke moped engine. It had basis elementary electronics like PCBs on board. It’s made locally by these people,” Navy chief stated.

This scenario has brought to fore the cost asymmetry between the attacker and attacked. “So you make a drone say as cheap as less than ₹10 to ₹20 lakh and to defend it you have to fire a missile that may cost ₹5 crore to ₹10 crore,” Kumar stated. The drones have the capacity to carry 40 kg payload.

According to Navy, though there is no evidence, it is assumed that Iran is providing them missiles.