KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — An anti-piracy watchdog group on Thursday welcomed an Indian warship’s destruction of a suspected pirate vessel in waters off Somalia, where hijackings have become increasingly violent and the hijackers increasingly bold.
In a rare victory in the sea war against the Somali pirates, the Indian navy’s INS Tabar sank a suspected pirate “mother ship” in the Gulf of Aden and chased two attack boats on Tuesday.
Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, said he was heartened by the Tabar’s success.
“It’s about time that such a forceful action is taken. It’s an action that everybody is waiting for,” Choong told The Associated Press.
“If all warships do this, it will be a strong deterrent. But if it’s just a rare case, then it won’t work” to control the unprecedented level of piracy in the Gulf of Aden, he said.
The pirates have stunned the maritime community with their brazen attacks, highlighted by last week’s hijacking of a Saudi-owned supertanker loaded with $100 million worth of crude oil.
A spokesman for Vela International Marine Ltd., the tanker’s owner, said the company “took the decision to maintain no comment” on issues concerning the tanker, including the ransom demanded for release of the vessel and the 25-member crew.
Spokesman Mihir Sapru said he could neither “deny nor confirm” negotiations between the pirates and the oil tanker’s owners are under way.
The Indian navy said the Tabar, operating off the coast of Oman, stopped the ship because it appeared similar to a pirate vessel mentioned in numerous piracy bulletins. It said the pirates fired at the Tabar after the officers asked it to stop to be searched.
Indian forces fired back, sparking fires and a series of onboard blasts — possibly caused by exploding ammunition — which destroyed the ship.
Since the beginning of the year, 39 ships have been hijacked in the Gulf of Aden out of 95 attacked. Eight were hijacked in the last two weeks.
Besides India, several other countries including the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have warships patrolling the area. But attacks have continued unabated off Somalia, which is caught up in an Islamic insurgency and has had no functioning government since 1991.
Pirates dock the hijacked ships near the eastern and southern Somalian coast and negotiate for ransom.
Choong and other officials say patrolling warships are hampered by a lack of a mandate to bring the hijackers to justice. Many European countries have restrictions on how far their ships can go in engaging the pirates, and many countries interpret international laws on piracy differently.
For example, NATO ships can intervene to prevent the seizure of ships if they are in the vicinity.
“But what they don’t have the mandate to do is to board ships that have already been hijacked to free the crew,” NATO spokesman James Appathurai told The Associated Press in Brussels.
Germany does not allow its warships to intercept hijacked vessels because their civilian crews of various nationalities could be at risk in the event of a fire-fight, Choong said.
On Wednesday, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, called on the international community to launch a joint amphibious operation against pirate strongholds in Somalia.
However, any such operation would likely require the approval of the U.N. Security Council, whose resolutions on anti-piracy operations are vague, Choong said.
On Thursday, representatives of six Arab countries met in an attempt to forge a strategy against the hijackings. Representatives from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Sudan and Somalia met in Cairo.
Egyptian diplomat Wafaa Bassem, who was chairing the meeting, said options include setting up a piracy monitoring center, joint maneuvers by Arab navies and a warning systems for ships navigating the Red Sea.