By B. Raman
According to the Wikipedia, Information Dissemination is a weblog covering international and United States naval affairs. It was founded in 2007 by Raymond Pritchett, who edits it under the pseudonym “Galrahn”, and has been called “one of the most-read Navy blogs”.
Under the title, “Somali pirates Target India”, this web log has disseminated the following report on April 16, 2011:
Somalia Pirates Target India
Somali pirates have raised the ante for operating ships operating with crews that have nationalized citizens of India.
India has been cleaning up territorial waters and piracy operating in their EEZ with a great deal of success lately, and after several successful actions going back to February, India has apparently pissed off some of the pirates a great deal.
This is the latest incident:
- Somalia pirates said on Saturday they would keep any Indian nationals from freed ships as hostages until fellow pirates held by India are set free.
- Somali pirates, who make millions of dollars ransoming ships hijacked as far south as the Seychelles and eastwards towards India, on Friday released MT Asphalt Venture, but held some of its Indian crew.
- “We are holding eight of Asphalt Venture crew. It was a joint understanding among us not to release any Indian citizens,” a pirate who gave his name as Abdi told Reuters from pirate stronghold Harardhere.
- “India hasn’t only declared war against us, but also it has risked the lives of many hostages,” he said.
Basically a multimillion dollar ransom was paid for the release of MT Asphalt Venture, and the ship was released, but the pirates kept 8 Indian nationals and are claiming they will keep all Indian nationals hostage until pirates that the Indian Navy and Coast Guard have captured are released. Pirates are no longer operating under normal rules, the spokesman in Harardhere is specifically using the word WAR, meaning they now feel they are in a state of war with India.
In the language of war, the pirates appear to be offering some sort of prisoner exchange.
Harardhere is the pirate stronghold in the south that many news sources have claimed direct financial agreements exist between pirates and Al Shabaab. (a pro-Al Qaeda organisation )
India has over 35,000 nationals who are employed globally as seamen on commercial ships flagged from a number of countries, and there are some very powerful maritime unions that work to protect the rights of those workers. We might also see some issues raised with insurance payments, because if a ransom payment is not valid for an Indian seaman, that could create a pretty big problem for piracy insurance premiums for ships with Indian nationals as crew members.
It will be interesting to see how this unfolds over the next few days.”
“The Hindu” of Chennai has reported as follows on this incident on April 19:” The Navy has sent a warship towards the Somali coast to keep a vigil on the hijacked merchant vessel on which seven Indian sailors are being held as hostages, despite payment of ransom by the owners of the ship. INS Talwar, currently deployed on an anti-piracy patrol mission off the Gulf of Aden, was diverted towards the coast. The move is being seen as an aggressive posture by the Navy. During an informal interaction, Defence Minister A. K. Antony refused to comment on whether the warship would launch action to free the hostages. Sources in the Navy and the Government maintained that the move was to ensure that the merchant vessel was not rendered further vulnerable and that the warship would not leave the area unless the hostages were released.”
“The Hindu” has further reported as follows: “According to latest figures, 53 Indian sailors are being held hostage on five different ships. Of them, 17 have been held for the longest on MT Savina Caylyn, an Italian ship which was seized on February 8, 2010.”
The tricky incident has two dimensions —tactical and strategic. The tactical dimension relates to securing the release of the Indian sailors who are still held hostages in order to apparently force the Government of India and our Navy to agree to a swap deal for the release of the Indian hostages in return for the release by India of some of the Somali pirates arrested by the Navy in the past, The Indian naval ship sent to the area would most probably have the following objectives: Firstly, to collect reliable intelligence. Secondly, to persuade/pressure the pirates to release the Indian sailors without harming them. Thirdly, to prevent the hostages from being transferred to land in Somalia from the ship, which could come in the way of rescue operations. Fourthly, to launch rescue operations involving minimal risks to the hostages if all other options fail. Since the Somali authorities have very little control over these pirates, the question of the Government of India using intermediaries may not arise.
The strategic dimension relates to how we are going to prevent similar incidents in future and to examine what kind of scenarios we might face in future and what kind of proactive and reactive options are available to our Navy. In view of the activist role of the Indian Navy in dealing with Somali piracy, the targeting of Indian nationals, interests and Indian naval and other onshore establishments by the pirates—with a steadily lengthening reach towards the Indian coast— could become more frequent, more virulent and more aggressive. This would call for a re-look at our counter-piracy strategy.