Need for Indian response in Somalia’s waters
|23 Nov 2008|
|After months of negotiations, hijacked Ship MV Stolt Valor, which carried 18 Indian nationals on board was released. The Japanese firm which owned the ship has reportedly paid a ransom of $2.5 million to the Somalia based pirates. It was another example of the piracy off the horn of Africa which was resolved through ransom payment.
The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has noted that piracy in the region has risen by a significant 10% as compared to the considerable wane witnessed in other parts of the world this year. The report also reflects the increasing brazenness of the Somali pirates operating with modern armory and impunity.
India has earlier too borne witness to the acts of pirates when earlier this year, for example, the MV Victoria which embarked from Mumbai, with Indians among others on board was hijacked by pirates. Although subsequently released under ambiguous terms, it is speculated that ransom money was paid.
The Indian government’s belated response in dealing with the crises reflects a callous attitude to a very important region. Despite interests in maintaining a stronger presence, the government had stalled a decision for hot pursuit of pirates, arguing for discussions among the Ministries of Defence, External Affairs, Law and Shipping (Times of India, 20 September 2008).
Contrasting the Stolt story with that of the French luxury yacht Le Ponant, which was hijacked by Somalia based pirates, the French government ordered a military operation with special commandos to launch a daring rescue of the hostages. While the French example cannot be feasible in all scenarios, it certainly pitches the case to act as a deterrent to the criminals of the high seas.
It was only after intense pressure from the wife of captive Captain Prabhat Goyal, that the government relented into allowing an Indian warship into the region to protect “Indian interests”. However, the Indian navy has a deeper strategic objective to achieve through its cooperation with other navies in the region in curbing piracy in the region.
In the past too, the Indian navy has helped combat piracy and has successfully contributed in patrolling the once piracy infested Malacca straits in South East Asia. Yemen too has been open to cooperating with regional powers in combating the menace of piracy. Already, the Indian navy has helped foiled two attempts since its deployment in the region. Patrolling the region provides India an effective image boost in the neighboring Arab countries, while also allowing for joint cooperation with NATO navies in the region.
The opportunity to patrol the Gulf of Aden would also bolster the ‘blue water’ capabilities of the Indian navy. Technically, a blue water navy is taken as one able to operate over 200 miles (320 kilometers) from shore. This is a measure which can also be used to counter growing Chinese influence in the region.
Projecting strong naval capability and a firmer hand against pirates is accentuated by the fact that since as much as 90% by volume and 77% by value of India’s foreign trade transits over the seas. A senior defense ministry official articulates “The Gulf of Aden provides access to the Suez Canal through which sizable portion of India’s trade flows. Indian Navy’s presence in the area will help to protect our sea-borne trade”.
Additionally, piracy action also has a terrorist crossover effect, and therefore needs to be dealt with. There are fears that ‘opportunistic pirates, many of whom operate in Muslim-dominated nations, could make common cause with Islamic extremists’ (Terrorism Monitor, 6/16). This fear was reiterated by Yemen’s Deputy Foreign Minister Dr Ali Hassan when he spoke about the element of hostage taking for ransom could be exploited by terrorist elements in the region (Al-Motamar, 7 October 2008).
India’s concerns can be addressed through working under the legal sanction of UNSC resolution 1816 (2008), which authorizes “all necessary means” to repress acts of piracy in Somali waters with cooperating states. India belatedly realized this threat and is actively moving into the troubled waters.