Indian Navy retakes MV Ruen from Somali pirates

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In a well-coordinated operation that lasted some 40 hours, the Indian Navy has retaken the ship MV Ruen from Somali pirates, rescuing the 17 crew members on board.

The operation was carried out by Indian warships, unmanned aerial vehicles, transport aircraft and maritime patrol aircraft.

The Maltese-flagged MV Ruen was hijacked on 14 December 2023 while 700 nautical miles east of Bosaso. The Indian Navy said it had been tracking the vessel for some time before implementing the rescue operation, which involved the Kolkata-class stealth guided-missile destroyer INS Kolkata intercepting the ship approximately 260 nautical miles East of Somalia.

The Kolkata intercepted the MV Ruen on the morning of 15 March, and confirmed the presence of armed pirates through a ship-launched drone.

“In a reckless hostile act, the pirates shot down the drone and fired at the Indian Naval warship,” an Indian Navy spokesperson said. “In a calibrated response in accordance with international laws, Kolkata disabled the ship’s steering system and navigational aids, forcing the pirate ship to stop.”

“Forceful negotiations” from the INS Kolkata resulted in the pirates surrendering and releasing the MV Ruen and the crew present onboard.

The efforts of the Indian Navy in the ongoing anti-piracy operation 1 400 nautical miles (2 600 km) from mainland India were augmented by the deployment of the Sukanya class patrol vessel INS Subhadra in the area on 16 March, and also by air-dropping of Marine Commandos (PRAHARS) by C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft the same afternoon, the Indian Navy explained.

Additionally, the pirate vessel was kept under surveillance by high altitude, long endurance (HALE) unmanned and P8I maritime patrol aircraft. “Due to sustained pressure and calibrated actions by the Indian Navy” that lasted 40 hours, all 35 Somali pirates surrendered and all 17 original crew of the MV Ruen were safely evacuated from the pirate vessel without any injury, the Indian Navy said.

“The vessel has also been sanitised for the presence of illegal arms, ammunition and contraband.”

The Indian Navy added that the seaworthiness of MV Ruen would be assed, and the vessel – carrying approximately 37 800 tons of cargo estimated at around one million dollars – will be brought safely to India.

“The culmination of the ongoing anti-piracy operation involving pirate ship Ruen in the Southern Indian Ocean Region (IOR) highlights the commitment of the Indian Navy towards reinforcing peace and stability, and also to thwart the resurgence of Piracy in the region. The Indian Navy remains steadfast in performing its role as the ‘First Responder’ in IOR,” the Indian Navy concluded.

The MV Ruen’s Bulgarian owner Navibulgar said its release was “a major success not only for us, but for the entire global maritime community … The resolution of this case proves that the security of commercial shipping will not be compromised.”

The MV Ruen may have been used as the base for the takeover of a Bangladesh-flagged cargo ship MV Abdullah off the coast of Somalia last week, the European Union Naval Force said. The vessel, en route from Maputo to the United Arab Emirates with a cargo of coal, was seized by at least a dozen pirates on 12 March and subsequently sailed towards Somalia.

The hijacking of the MV Ruen was the first such successful even by Somali pirates since 2017, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

Multiple incidences of piracy off the Horn of Africa have been recorded this year – at least 17 incidents of hijacking, attempted hijacking and suspicious approaches had been recorded by the Indian Navy since 1 December, Indian officials previously said.

The hijackings off Somalia have raised concerns about a resurgence of Indian Ocean piracy by opportunistic pirates taking advantage of naval forces focussing on defeating attacks on shipping by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

The Indian Navy has a sizeable presence in the Red Sea region, with a dozen warships deployed to provide security against pirates as Western powers focus on attacks by Yemen’s Houthis.

In January, the Indian Navy foiled two hijackings by Somali pirates within days. On 29 January, the fishing vessel Al Naeemi and her crew (19 Pakistani nationals) were rescued by the Indians from 11 Somali pirates after the Iranian-flagged fishing vessel was boarded and her crew taken hostage.

The day before, the INS Sumitra was again in action off the Somali coast when she responded to a distress message regarding the hijacking of the Iranian flagged fishing vessel Iman, which had been boarded by pirates and the crew taken as hostages.

The Indian Navy said INS Sumitra intercepted the vessel and coerced the pirates to safely release the 17 crew along with the boat. “The fishing vessel was subsequently sanitised and released for onward transit.”

On 5 January, the Indian Navy rescued another vessel from pirates – 21 crew were evacuated from the MV Lila Norfolk in the North Arabian Sea a day after it was boarded by half a dozen armed men off Somalia’s coast.

Also in January, the Seychelles’ government said its defence forces and coast guard had rescued six Sri Lankan fishermen whose vessel had been hijacked by Somali pirates. The fishing trawler Lorenzo Putha-4 was seized along with its six-man crew on 27 January, about 840 nautical miles southeast of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu.