New Delhi: With the hijack of the 300,000 tonne Saudi supertanker Sirius Star still fresh in memory news has come in of a second engagement between the Indian Navy frigate INS Tabar and pirates in the waters of the Gulf of Aden. According to a ministry of defence statement the navy's stealth class frigate engaged a mother vessel of pirates and after a brief fire fight destroyed their vessel.
The statement also said two speed boats attached to the vessel made their getaway, of which one was subsequently found abandoned. It is not clear from the statement if the mother vessel sank as a result of the encounter.
According to the ministry statement, INS Tabar, which is currently in the Gulf of Aden for Anti-Piracy Surveillance and Patrol Operations, encountered a pirate vessel, 285 nm south west of Salalah (Oman) on the evening of 18 November, with two speed boats in tow. This vessel, it said, was similar in description to the 'Mother Vessel' mentioned in various piracy bulletins.
INS Tabar closed in on the vessel and asked her to stop for investigation. According to the navy, on repeated calls the vessel's threatening response was that she would blow up the warship if it closed with her. It said pirates could be seen roaming on the upper deck of the vessel with guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The navy said the vessel continued its threatening calls and subsequently fired upon INS Tabar.
On being fired upon, INS Tabar opened fire on the mother vessel as a result of which fire broke out on the vessel and explosions were heard, possibly due to exploding ammunition stored onboard.
Almost simultaneously, two speed boats were observed breaking off to escape. The ship chased the first boat which was later found abandoned. The other boat made good its escape into darkness.
This is the Tabar's second encounter with pirates in the area. In the first instance, on 11 November, soon after being deployed in the Gulf of Aden, the ship thwarted an attempt by pirates to capture an Indian merchant vessel in the region. This was an Indian merchantman, the MV Jag Arnav, owned by Mumbai-based Great Eastern Shipping Company. The ship had recently crossed the Suez Canal and was eastward bound when it was surrounded by pirates, and a last minute intervention by Tabar's helicopters prevented boarding of the ship.
Shortly thereafter it drove off another gang hat was attempting to board a Saudi vessel in the same area.
According to the NATO Shipping Centre's 18 November 2008 Somalia Piracy Update, the total number of commercial vessels (including one tug) hijacked in Somali waters now stands at 14,with over 200 merchant seamen held by pirates. Interestingly, it says the use of mother-ships seems to be on the rise, and potentially, vessels are hijacked with the sole intention of using them as such.
The trends in latest piracy incidents, it says, are as follows:
* Targeting larger cargo/oil/gas/chemical tankers
* Approaches/attacks conducted from 2-3 small speedboats with 3-5 armed persons each. The number of boats involved in each incident seems to be increasing.
Other sources have outlined the major problem faced by navies as being their inability to patrol the waters near Somalia as this can only be done in international waters. Pirates have long used mother ships far offshore as their jumping off point for hijackings, as outlined above, instead of from small harbours along the coast.
Meanwhile, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in London, which tracks pirate attacks, has described the recent upsurge in pirate activity as unprecedented. "We've never seen a situation like this," an official said.
On 15 November 2008 pirates hijacked Saudi supertanker Sirius Star, while it was southbound, about 450 nautical miles southeast of the coast of Kenya - the farthest out to sea Somali pirates have struck. This was also the largest vessel ever to be hijacked. The vessel was carrying a full load of 2,000,000 barrels of crude oil, which is more than one-quarter of Saudi Arabia's daily oil production output, and worth at least $100 million.
The consignment was bound for the United States via the Cape of Good Hope. According to the United States Navy, the pirates have since anchored Sirius Star near the Somali port of Eyl, which is a pirate haven and contains many ships held for ransom.
On Tuesday, pirates hijacked a Thai fishing vessel and Chinese-flagged Iranian cargo ship carrying wheat in the waters off the Horn of Africa. A Chinese fishing vessel was also hijacked Saturday, word of which reached authorities only on Tuesday, the IMB said.
According to the IMB's Piracy Reporting Center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 95 pirate attacks have taken place in the Gulf of Aden. Of those, 39 have resulted in successful captures. As of now 17 vessels and their crews, a total of about 300 sailors, remain in the hands of pirates.
INS Tabar, a Talwar-class stealth frigate, the navy's latest, is on an anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden since 2 November 2008. During this period, she has successfully escorted approximately 35 ships, including a number of foreign flagged vessels, safely during their transit through pirate infested waters of the Gulf of Aden and also prevented two hijacking attempts on 11 Nov 08.