India wants UN force off Somalia after its ship is refused protection

November 14th, 2008 - 3:42 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Nov 14 (IANS) Just days after foiling two attempted hijacks by heavily armed sea pirates off the coast of Somalia, India has called for a United Nations peacekeeping force to patrol the increasingly dangerous Gulf of Aden in the Arabian Sea.The Indian call - made Thursday at the twice-yearly Council meeting of the International Maritime Organization in London - is aimed at bringing current disjointed security patrols of individual countries under a unified command.

Senior shipping sources said the move follows a recent refusal by a Western naval patrol to protect an Indian merchant ship that felt “vulnerable” to attacks on what is perhaps the world’s most dangerous stretch of water.

“When the Indian captain asked for protection, he was asked, firstly, about which flag he was flying, then about the nationality of his crew, and finally about which cargo he was carrying,” said Shipping Corporation of India Chairman S. Hajara.

When informed that it was an Indian ship with Indian seafarers, the captain was told that he could not be provided immediate protection, Hajara, who is part of the Indian delegation to the IMO Council meetings, told IANS.

The 950-km stretch, straddled by Yemen on the north and Somalia on the south, is part of the vital Suez shipping route and patrolled by a multinational anti-terror naval task force comprising warships from the US, Britain, Germany and other countries.

India chose to stay out of the force because it is not under UN control and its call for UN leadership and coordination at the IMO Thursday received the backing of a large number of countries, said Shipping Secretary A.P.V.N. Sarma.

“We urged the IMO Council to consider recommending to the UN the formation of a UN peacekeeping force under a unified command in order to prevent attacks in the area and provide assistance and security to international shipping irrespective of flag and nationality of seamen,” Sarma told IANS.

With at least one Indian ship passing through the Gulf of Aden every day, many of them carrying oil, India is particularly vulnerable to piracy in the region, which is fuelled by terrorism and the conflict in Somalia.

It has had to rely on unilateral action so far, and attack helicopters launched from an Indian warship Tuesday helped save an Indian and a Saudi Arabian ship from piracy off the Somali coast.

With more than 32 ships - from all nationalities - having been hijacked in the area this year alone, New Delhi is considering a proposal to deploy additional naval support for its merchant ships, sources told IANS.

At least four warships are needed to protect Indian ships, they added.

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