The Indian Navy captured 61 pirates after a gun battle at sea on Saturday night, approximately 600 nautical miles (1 100 km) of India’s west coast, and freed 13 crewmembers who were being hostage aboard the pirate’s mother ship.
The operation began on Friday when the Navy received a distress call from the Japanese ship MV Vancouver Bridge. An Indian Navy Dornier 228 aircraft was sent out to search for the ship. It found the Vega 5, a Mozambique-flagged fishing vessel, together with two skiffs, which were used to attack the Vancouver Bridge.
The Vega 5 had been hijacked on December 28 near Beira in the Mozambique Channel on the other side of the Indian Ocean last year and was used as a mother ship from which several attacks were launched, the Indian Navy said in a statement.
“The pirates aborted their attempt [at hijacking the Vancouver Bridge] after spotting our aircraft and we also asked two of our ships, the INS Khukri [a missile corvette] and the INS Kalpeni [a fast-attack craft], to intercept and investigate,” Indian Navy spokesman commander P V Satish told The Telegraph India.
When the Navy ships caught up with the pirates on Saturday night, the mother ship mistook the Kalpeni for a small merchant vessel and launched two skiffs in an attempt to hijack it. The pirates began shooting at the Kapleni, causing the sailors to return fire. The pirates had 80-90 weapons, including small arms and RPGs, but there were no casualties in the gun fight. During the engagement, a fire erupted on the Vega 5 and several of the crew jumped into the sea. The navy ships then closed in and brought 61 pirates and 13 kidnapped crew to Mumbai, where the pirates will be prosecuted.
A pirate in Somalia threatened Indian sailors and the Indian government with attacks in relation for capturing the pirates, the Associated Press reports. Pirate Bile Hussein said the capture would lead to “trouble” for Indian sailors and ships. “They better release them, considering their people travelling in the waters, or we shall jail their people like that. We are first sending a message to the Indian government of releasing our friends in their hands or else they have to be ready for their citizens to be mistreated in the near future.”
Piracy is on the rise off India’s coast as Somali pirates move further east to avoid the international maritime anti-piracy task force. As of February, pirates held around 30 ships and more than 660 hostages. Approximately 53 Indian nationals aboard five vessels are being held by Somali pirates. “The government will take all appropriate action to safeguard the welfare of the Indian sailors,” Foreign Minister S M Krishna said.
India has been using its Navy’s ships to escort commercial shipping since 2008 and has achieved a number of successes against pirates. In February India captured 28 Somali pirates and in January arrested another 12 Somalis as well as two Ethiopians and a Kenyan pirate. They will all be prosecuted in Mumbai. Some of the charges include attempted murder.
Last week, the Indian government said it was working on a new anti-piracy law to deal with the growing number of attacks and was looking for ways to negotiate with pirates.
Encounters with pirates are becoming increasingly violent as nations attempt to counter piracy while ransom payments go up – the highest ransom paid was US$9.5 million for the Samho Dream supertanker. The number of hijackings shows no sign of diminishing – the International Maritime Bureau reported four attempted hijackings in the last week.
Last week, five security forces from the semi-autonomous Puntland region were killed along with two pirates after a failed attempt to rescue a Danish family of five and two crew members captured from their yacht.
Last week an anti-piracy meeting was held in Denmark to work out a judicial framework on captured pirates. The organisers said the judicial framework could pave the way for United Nations-planned prisons in Puntland and Somaliland. The two prisons would house a thousand prisoners and would cost US$30 million to build.
Meanwhile, a Bangladeshi vessel was released on Monday by pirates after a US$4 million ransom was paid. The ship, with its 26 crew, were held for more than three months. Pirates at one stage had threatened to kill the 26 people on board, including the wife of one of the crew, if the owner failed to meet a February ransom demand. The MV Jahan Moni was seized on December 5 about 550 kilometres off the Indian coast whilst transporting nickel ore from Indonesia to Greence. It is now headed for Oman.