Sunken vessel was indulging in piracy: Indian Navy (Lead, Changing Dateline)

November 26th, 2008 - 8:24 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi/Bangkok, Nov 26 (IANS) Sticking to it guns, the Indian Navy, in response of Thailand’s demand for clarification, Wednesday said it had sunk a ship in the Gulf of Aden last week because the vessel was indulging in “an act of piracy on high seas”.The Indian Navy’s stealth frigate INS Tabar, which has been patrolling the piracy-infested Gulf of Aden since Nov 2, said it sank a pirate vessel last week, winning accolades worldwide.

However, the incident took a curious turn after a Thai company Tuesday said that the alleged pirate “mother vessel” was its fishing trawler hijacked off Yemen coast Nov 18 morning.

“The pirate vessel was under command of pirates when it attacked INS Tabar. Indian Navy has acted in self defence,” Indian Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta told reporters, responding to the controversy surrounding the incident.

“The owner itself has admitted that the vessel was taken over by the pirates. We told her (the vessel) to stop for investigation but they threatened to blow us up. We saw men with guns and RPGs (rocket propelled guns). After threatening calls, they fired upon us and our action was in response to that,” Indian Navy spokesperson Commander Nirad Sinha told reporters.

According to Indian Navy sources, INS Tabar first communicated with the alleged pirate vessel with two speed boats in tow at 6.45 p.m. on Nov 18 on a frequency accessed by every ship in the vicinity. However, the vessel continued sailing towards the Somalian coast as INS Tabar tried to close in.

An hour later, armed men were spotted on the deck of the vessel and INS Tabar fired first warning shots around 7.45 p.m, asking it to stop. After repeated “threatening calls” to blow the stealth frigate, the pirates fired at INS Tabar and “retaliatory shots” were fired from the guided missile stealth frigate at 9.23 p.m., the navy said.

“The Thai company’s claims have given rise to many questions. Firstly, if there were hostages aboard, why did not the pirates use them as human shield to get a way out? Secondly, the series of explosions on the vessel suggest large quantity of ammunition aboard,” a senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Even if the pirates had hijacked the vessel in the morning, it is practically impossible to load it with ammunition by evening.”

The Indian Navy also said the Somali pirates use “hijacked” vessels for acts of piracy.

“We are convinced that we have acted against the pirates at high seas. We understand it was an act of piracy,” Sinha said.

News agency DPA earlier reported from Bangkok that Thailand has sought a clarification from the Indian Navy on its rules of engagement in sinking the alleged pirate ship.

Thai national Wicharn Sirichaiekawat said the sunken vessel was a trawler Ekawat Nava 5, registered in Kiribati, an island nation in the South Pacific, and it was owned by him.

“We have asked the Indian authorities to help us verify the ownership of the vessel and then clarify their rules of engagement,” said Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat.

The Thai foreign ministry said it was convinced the “pirate ship” was in fact the Ekawat Nava 5 because the owner of the vessel lost contact with his ship Nov 18 while it was in the Gulf of Aden and one of the crewmen, a Cambodian, who survived the attack has provided details of the incident from his hospital bed in Yemen, Tharit said.

According to Wicharn, the ship had a crew of 16 on board, including one Cambodian and 15 Thais, when it was attacked. He said the ship was travelling from Oman to Yemen to deliver fishing equipment when it was first attacked by pirates and then by the Indian Navy frigate.

“The ship was raided by pirates, and all of the crew members were tied up when the Indian Navy attacked, according to the survivor,” Tharit said.

However, the Indian Navy said in New Delhi that it was yet to receive any official query from Thailand. According to Indian Navy officials, INS Tabar had carried out preliminary investigations but did not find any survivors.

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