A welcome step: Indian Navy in Somalian waters

Earlier post on the subject :A potboiler… off the Somalian coast

Somalia is a failed state with no central government and over 3,000 miles of coastline. NATO reports that  there have been seven new piracy-related incidents including two hijacks during the past week itself and nine vessels are now being held by Somali pirates for ransom. It also estimates that 93 piracy-related incidents have been reported so far this year in the Gulf of Aden and off the east coast of Somalia, compared to three incidents over the same period last year. A flotilla of seven NATO ships is moving in toward the Gulf of Aden to escort UN boats carrying food aid to Somalia and run patrols to deter pirate attacks on other vessels.

Interestingly, the pirates seem to be playing a well-coordinated relay action with every new hijacked ship.  A Philippine DFA Undersecretary claims that the pirates appear to initially bring a hijacked ship to the port in Eyl village, northeast of Somalia. When a new ship is hijacked, the pirates move the first ship to another port. This goes on like a relay every time there’s a new hijacked ship. The ships are then distributed in different ports.

The Indian government seems to be finally listening to Nitin Pai’s exhortations for an Indian naval presence to tackle the Somalian pirates.

Government has approved deployment of Indian Naval warship in Gulf of Aden to patrol the normal route followed by Indian Flagships during passage between Salalah (Oman) and Aden (Yemen). …The patrolling is commencing immediately. The warship will be carrying helicopters and marine commandos. …The presence of Indian Navy in the area will help to protect our sea borne trade and instil confidence in our sea faring community, as well as function as a deterrent for pirates.[PIB]

Will it lead to storming of the hijacked ship Stolt Valor with 18 Indians aboard? That is a moot question. However the irresponsible media coverage focused on families demanding no military action and payment of ransom by the Indian government is reminiscent of the public pressure built up by similar media antics during the Kandahar hijack. The government has a very difficult choice to make. On the one hand, if the government pays the ransom, it will be charged by the same media of capitulation and India will be labelled as a weak state. On the other hand, some hostages may lose their lives if the ship is stormed by the Naval Commandos and the government will then be charged of callousness towards lives of Indian nationals.

There are only two scenarios where it can be a win-win situation for all the concerned parties — either the Indian naval commandos successfully storm the ship without any casualties or the threat of an Indian naval action leads to a lowered ransom amount and a negotiated settlement between the owners of the ship and the hijackers. The latter is a far safer and more prudent course of action and will happen in all likelihood.

While there is a glimmer of hope for the captive Indian sailors due to this (rather belated and laboured) decision by the government, the real advantage accrues to the Indian commercial ships moving through the Indian Ocean to the Suez Canal in the future. It also provides India with a chance to showcase its professional world-class Navy, which happens to be only strategic defence service [among the three services] protecting and promoting Indian commercial interests overseas.

The Indian Navy, in turn, is likely to benefit from close cooperation and joint operations with other navies deployed in the region — the US, the NATO, the EU, the CTF-150 et al. Exercise Malabar may have been restricted to only the Indian and US navies this year after vehement Chinese protests, but there are no such restrictions on joint operations in real-time missions with other navies in the Indian Ocean.

It is a welcome step that clearly signals India’s growing need to secure its larger strategic and economic interests. It is a significant departure from the Nehruvian facade of overseas military deployment — Indian troops serving under the UN flag for “risking lives in the service of an ideal”. Not only should this embolden the Indian government to signficantly rationalise its troop contribution to UN peacekeeping operations, this ought to also act as a precursor to other significant Out of Area operations undertaken by the Indian defence services for furtherance of vital foreign policy objectives, solely in the Indian national interest.


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8 Responses to A welcome step: Indian Navy in Somalian waters

  1. ask October 17, 2008 at 3:27 pm #

    With the current state of demoralisation in forces Indian Navy is unlikely to achieve either of the objectives.Why should Naval commandos be employed to free a foriegn ship??In any case why should they sacrifice/risk their lives for a ungrateful nation !!This sort of mission is not in thier charter.Instead Babooz should try using PMF/CPOs & let us see how they perform in the rescue job.

  2. superman October 17, 2008 at 4:29 pm #

    the Indian Navy has the right to help people in need, i.e the indian hostages. even if the ship is foreign their duty is to protect our seas and “interests”, regardless of what you may think of another country, if we have the power to do something then let it be done. the U.S is doing their part, i think the Indain Navy can as well. let them show the world what they are capable of.its about time India steps up.

  3. ask October 18, 2008 at 11:40 am #

    It would patently illegal to take military action in a foriegn port.Perhaps only the Israelis can do it successfully.You must be aware that we have terribly failed to rescue 73 of our servicemen PsOW languishing in Pakistani jails since 1971 war.These are not “our seas”as made out. “Storming” a guarded ship docked in a protected foriegn port 3-4000 kms away is not a cake walk as made out & would need a full fledged inter Services military operation. We simply dont have the capability to do it successfully. The Navy at best can prevent such incidents in future by escorting our merchant ships in the area.

  4. superman October 18, 2008 at 1:48 pm #

    i do agree that we should take precautionary measures to prevent this from happening again. but is it advisable to consider any law with such people,by saying that it would be illegal to storm inot their docks when they hijack ships? somali doesnt have any form of government to implement any law.i appreciate the info since i dont know much about military laws, but should the navy just sit and do nothing for the hostages indian or the others? they may have made mistakes in the past but that doesn’t mean that they still cant fight the pirates. they do have the resources and the marine commandoes are quite something. if the indian government ends up paying the ransom we’ll be tagged as a weak nation by the media.
    the Somali waters and the Gulf of Aden should be protected by the navy, the indian navy is one of the largest in the Eastern part , i think.they cant just sit & let this go.look what happened to the military cargo destined for Kenya, it was unescourted. no security on the ship at all.

  5. Veeru October 18, 2008 at 2:15 pm #

    While all this was happening, I was reminded of Robert Kaplan. (http://pragmatic.nationalinterest.in/2008/02/20/indias-larger-military-role-in-this-century/). Eventually, Navy has to emerge as the largest and the most potent force in order to keep the Indian defence forces in sync with the ‘aam aadmi’.


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