The Indian Navy has dispatched a warship to intercept a Liberian-flagged cargo vessel that was hijacked by armed assailants off the coast of Somalia earlier this week. The ship, MV Chem Pluto, was reportedly carrying 15 Indian crew members when it was attacked approximately 460 nautical miles east of Eyl, Somalia on January 4th.
Hijackers Storm Liberian-Flagged Ship with Indian Crew
According to reports, eight armed hijackers stormed the MV Chem Pluto in the early morning hours of January 4th. The attackers used high-speed boats to approach and board the ship.
The hijackers have taken control of the vessel and are currently sailing it toward the shore of Somalia. Their intentions remain unclear at this time.
The MV Chem Pluto was transporting coal from Kenya to India when it was attacked. Sources say there are 15 Indian nationals among the crew. Their status and condition are currently unknown.
Officials believe this is the first successful hijacking of a commercial ship near Somalia since 2012. Some analysts say it signals the resurgence of piracy in the region.
Indian Navy Deploys Warship INS Chennai to Intercept Hijacked Vessel
In response to the hijacking, the Indian Navy has dispatched the guided-missile destroyer INS Chennai to intercept the MV Chem Pluto. The warship was already deployed in the Gulf of Aden region as part of the Navy’s anti-piracy operations.
In addition to INS Chennai, the Navy has deployed aircraft for aerial surveillance in the region. According to officials, the Navy has also enhanced security measures and beefed up patrolling efforts in the Arabian Sea following a recent spate of attacks on merchant vessels.
|Naval Assets Deployed in Arabian Sea
|Sea King helicopters
|Anti-submarine warfare aircraft
|Maritime patrol aircraft
|Long-range patrol aircraft
The Indian Navy first tweeted that it was responding to the hijacking on January 5th: “Indian Navy responds to incident involving chemical tanker MT Chem Pluto in Arabian Sea, dispatches INS Chennai and maritime patrol aircraft to undertake efforts.”
Background – Recent Attacks on Ships in Arabian Sea
The hijacking of the MV Chem Pluto follows a series of suspected drone attacks on ships in the Arabian Sea region.
In late December, two product tankers suffered minor damage from drone attacks off the coast of Oman. The vessels – MV Energy Centurion and MV Prometheus Leader – were carrying petroleum products from Saudi Arabia to India.
Officials said it appeared the ships were attacked by long-range drones launched by Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Houthis are an Iran-backed militant group that has been fighting a years-long civil war in Yemen.
Earlier in December, another vessel suffered a deadly explosion while docked at Jeddah Islamic Port in Saudi Arabia. That blast killed two crew members – one Indian and one Pakistani national.
These incidents have raised security concerns for vessels operating in the Arabian Sea, especially those sailing between Saudi Arabia and India.
India Bolsters Maritime Security Efforts Amid Heightened Tensions
The recent attacks have prompted Indian naval commanders to review security protocols and enhance surveillance efforts in the region.
Last week, Navy Chief Admiral R Hari Kumar directed naval ships and aircraft to undertake maximum sustained operational readiness in the Arabian Sea. Officials say the Navy has significantly increased patrols and is monitoring all suspicious vessels very closely.
The hijacking also comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and its adversaries – namely Israel, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. Some analysts say the Houthi rebel attacks on regional shipping could be an extension of the Iran-Saudi proxy conflict.
So far, India has avoided blaming any specific party for the attacks on shipping vessels. However, officials have vowed to protect Indian merchant ships and crews transiting high-risk areas.
The Indian Navy is reportedly considering expanding its presence and joining a U.S.-led coalition to protect international shipping in the Red Sea. Such a move could be viewed as picking sides by Iran.
For now, all eyes are on INS Chennai as it steams toward the hijacked MV Chem Pluto. The Navy has not ruled out conducting a rescue operation if needed to secure the release of the Indian crew.
The situation remains tense as the Indian Navy tracks the hijacked ship off the Horn of Africa. Officials have established communication channels with the ship’s owners and crew members’ families.
If INS Chennai is able to intercept the vessel, the destroyer would likely deploy marine commandos to storm the ship and apprehend the hijackers. However, a rescue operation could risk the lives of crew members being held hostage.
The hijackers’ intentions also remain a mystery. While piracy for ransom used to be common off Somalia, analysts say it’s unusual for assailants to divert a ship possibly containing volatile chemicals.
Some experts speculate the hijackers could be smugglers or armed militants rather than pirates. If so, they may try moving cargo to another vessel before releasing the ship.
Until more details emerge, the Indian Navy will continue tactical monitoring and surveillance of the ship. Officials say they are prepared to take all necessary actions to resolve the situation.
The hijacking has certainly raised security concerns and could prompt merchant vessels to take alternate routes away from the Horn of Africa. As the Indian Navy ramps up patrols, the situation also risks exacerbating regional tensions with Iran.
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