Indian Navy warship deployed in Gulf of Aden

October 16th, 2008 - 8:59 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 16 (IANS) An Indian Navy warship has been deployed in the Gulf of Aden for the first time to conduct anti-piracy patrols along the route Indian merchant vessels normally take during their passage between Salalah in Oman and Aden, it was announced Thursday. The anti-piracy patrol will be carried out in coordination with the Directorate General of Shipping, “who will keep Indian flagship vessels informed in case they want to travel in the Indian Ocean along with Indian Navy ship,” a defence ministry statement said.

“The patrolling is commencing immediately” and the Indian warship will be carrying helicopters and marine commandos, the statement added.

“The presence of an Indian Navy warship in this area will be significant as Gulf of Aden is a major strategic choke point in the Indian Ocean region and provides access to the Suez Canal through which the sizeable portion of India’s trade flows.

“The presence of the Indian Navy in the area will help to protect our sea borne trade and instil confidence in our seafaring community, as well as function as a deterrent for pirates,” the statement added.

This is the first time the Indian Navy has been tasked with patrolling international waters and comes in the wake of a series of hijackings by pirates off the Somali coast. In one of these incidents, 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.

This had prompted the Indian Navy to reiterate its 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.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony had, late last month nixed the proposal, saying it was not mandated by international law, besides which patrols in the area by US and French warships in the area had not deterred piracy in the region.

Senior naval officials, however, disagreed with Antony.

“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,” a senior officer had told IANS last month, speaking on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the issue.

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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