Antony rules out joint patrols in Somali waters

September 24th, 2008 - 6:20 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 24 (IANS) Flatly rejecting the option of joint patrolling in Somali waters, Defence Minister A.K. Antony said Wednesday the Indian government is in talks with the African nation’s Transitional Federation government on steps to check piracy in the region.The statement comes at a time when there have been increasing demands from various quarters for the Indian government to intervene after a Hong Kong-registered merchant vessel with 18 Indian sailors among a crew of 22 aboard was hijacked by pirates off the Yemen coast Sep 15 and taken to a Somali port.

“We do not have an agreement with the Somali government on this issue and we are consulting them. We are trying our best but the ship is in a Somali port. We are looking into all the issues but there will be no joint patrol,” Antony told reporters here.

However, the defence minister brushed aside a suggestion that India was entitled to conduct such patrols as it had ratified the UN Conference on the Laws of Seas and the UN Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation.

Antony’s statement has also put a full stop to the Indian Navy’s request, made a year ago, to patrol the waters off the Somali coast against pirates as its larger game-plan of playing a bigger role in patrolling the international waters off the Gulf of Aden, which is an important route for India’s oil supplies.

“Patrolling by major countries like the US and France has been going on in the region. Despite this, piracy is still going on in the region. It is a matter of serious concern and the UN itself has taken it seriously,” Antony added.

Senior naval officials, however, said: “India has a legal framework to give a go-ahead to the navy to function in the territorial waters of Somalia as it is a signatory to the relevant UN laws on the issue.”

“Moreover, the legal sanction is also being provided by the statement of the Transitional Federation government of Somalia in the Security Council this year which sanctioned the actions of any nation against pirates in its territorial waters,” the official added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Indian Navy is keen on playing a bigger role in the region under the aegis of the UN as this would enhance its credentials.

The navy is also keen to provide a helping hand to the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) by responding to urgent humanitarian needs in Somalia.

In July, the WFP appealed to global naval powers to help protect ships carrying life-saving assistance from pirate attacks, saying that as many as two million Somalis could go hungry without this essential help.

Somalia’s coastline has been identified by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) as the area with the highest risk of piracy in the world. For India, monitoring the waters off Africa’s east coast form an essential part securing its energy supplies.

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