The Indian Navy has rescued 21 crew members, including 15 Indians, from a hijacked merchant vessel in the Arabian Sea. The daring raid took place amid high drama on the high seas.
Lead up to the Hijacking
The Liberia-flagged ship was on its way from Dubai to Eritrea when it was hijacked by armed men off the coast of Somalia on January 4th. Officials believe the hijackers were affiliated with the terrorist group Al-Shabaab that is active in Somalia.
As per standard protocols, the UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which monitors shipping traffic in high-risk areas, alerted Indian maritime authorities that the vessel issued a mayday call reporting a hijacking in progress.
The 225-meter-long bulk carrier had a multinational crew of 21 sailors aboard, including 15 Indians. Their lives were under imminent threat from the hijackers.
India Dispatches Warship INS Chennai
Responding with alacrity, the Indian Navy immediately dispatched stealth guided-missile destroyer INS Chennai and patrol aircraft from its Western Naval Command.
The warship, packed with an array of weapons, raced at top speed to intercept and establish contact with the hijacked vessel that was drifting about 450 nautical miles off the Somali coast.
Dramatic Mid-Sea Rescue
On reaching the bulk carrier on the morning of January 5th, the INS Chennai issued warnings to the intruders. After seeing the Indian warship, the pirates beat a hasty retreat, abandoning the hijacked ship.
Indian Marine Commandos (MARCOS) then boarded the vessel by helicopter and rescued the entire crew to safety in a dramatic mid-sea operation. The crew had locked themselves in a safe room when the heavily-armed pirates took control of the ship’s bridge.
All 21 crew members were found to be safe and unharmed, though in a state of shock after the nightmarish experience. They profusely thanked the MARCOS team and Indian Navy for the daring rescue operation that saved their lives.
Crew Evacuated and Heading Home
The crew of the rescued ship is now being evacuated by INS Chennai. Medical assistance is being provided to the crew members on board by a naval doctor.
The warship will remain in the area till the crew is disembarked at the nearest port. The 15 Indian nationals will then be repatriated to India.
The bold rescue has been widely praised as affirmation of the Indian Navy’s commitment to safeguarding India’s maritime interests and saving Indian lives anywhere on the high seas.
Worrying Rise in Piracy
However, the attempted ship hijacking has also underscored the worrying rise in piracy activities in recent years, especially off the coast of Somalia.
As per the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), piracy incidents increased last year for the first time in a decade. The Gulf of Guinea off West Africa emerged as the world’s piracy hotspot in 2022 with 43 attacks. Thankfully, the Indian Navy and other navies have managed to deter pirates from capturing ships for ransom in the region.
The table below gives the worldwide piracy incident statistics for 2022:
|No. of Incidents
|Gulf of Guinea
|South China Sea
|India (West Coast)
However, the attempted hijacking of the merchant vessel off Somalia is worrying as no piracy incident had taken place there since 2018 due to naval patrols. It signals that the Al-Shabaab group may be reviving piracy to fund its terrorist activities.
The Indian Navy warship INS Chennai will maintain a vigil off the Somalia coast to deter any further piracy attempts. Other countries, notably China, may also deploy navy vessels in response to the hijack attempt.
However, naval ships cannot be present everywhere all the time. Maritime experts say Indian merchant vessels should take their own precautions like sailing at top speed, putting up barbed wire fencing, and having armed security guards to prevent boarding by pirates when transiting through high-risk areas near the Somalia coast.
The Indian government is also evaluating the overall security situation following the hijacking incident including the increased drone attacks in the Arabian sea region. New measures may be adopted to enhance security and surveillance to prevent such threats against Indian flag vessels in the future.
For now, Indian maritime authorities can take satisfaction from the successful rescue of the ship’s crew unharmed from the pirate’s clutches through the prompt and courageous action of the Indian Navy. But they will be doubling watch on the seas for any signs of the pirates returning.
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