‘No Indian ship attacked but situation in Red Sea volatile’ says Navy Chief

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NEW DELHI : The Indian Navy, which has deployed more than 10 warships in the region, has thwarted several piracy attempts in and around Arabian Sea during the last 100 days.

Not a single Indian-flagged vessel has been targeted in and around Red Sea by Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who have mostly attacked ships linked to Israel and western nations after tensions escalated in the region following the Israel-Hamas conflict that began on October 7, 2023, but the situation in the western Indian Ocean is volatile and the Indian Navy will remain deployed there till normalcy returns, Indian Navy Chief Admiral R Hari Kumar said on Saturday.

“The Houthis have been targeting vessels linked to Israel and ships sailing under the flags of some Western countries. The situation is volatile. It may not worsen but it is likely to stay the way it is as it is linked to the Israel-Hamas conflict…We will ensure that things do not escalate.”

His comments came during a media briefing to mark 100 days of maritime security operations in the region where merchant vessels have faced a barrage of missile and drone attacks by the Houthis, and hijacking attempts by Somali pirates.

The navy, which has more than 10 warships deployed in the region, has thwarted several piracy attempts in and around Arabian Sea during the last 100 days and responded to distress calls made by merchant ships hit by missiles and drones launched by the Houthis.

“We are the largest resident naval power in the Indian Ocean. It is our responsibility to ensure that the Indian Ocean region remains safe, secure and stable,” he said.

His briefing came days after the navy apprehended 35 Somali pirates and ensured safe evacuation of 17 crew members of hijacked vessel Ruen after a 40-hour operation that involved the elite marine commandos being air-dropped from C-17 aircraft around 1,400 nautical miles (2,600 km) from the country’s shores. The mission involved INS Kolkata, which intercepted the pirate ship, INS Subhadra, Sea Guardian remotely piloted aircraft and P8-I maritime patrol aircraft.

The 35 pirates were handed over to the Mumbai police on Saturday.

In the last 100 days, 21 Indian warships have been deployed for operations in the region, accounting for around 5,000 naval personnel being at sea, and 900 hours of flying by the maritime surveillance aircraft, according to Indian Navy data. The navy has carried out almost 1,000 boarding operations on the high seas. It is conducting maritime security operations in three areas — in and around Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and off the Somali coast.

“With over 110 lives saved (including 45 Indian seafarers), 15 lakh tonnes of critical commodities escorted (such as fertilisers, crude oil and finished products), nearly 1,000 boarding operations undertaken, more than 3,000 kg of narcotics seized and over 450 merchant vessels assured of Indian Navy’s presence, the ongoing maritime security operations have truly reflected Indian Navy’s capability in playing a vital role as a strong and a responsible navy in the Indian Ocean region,” the navy said in a statement.

The developments in the region have led to insurance costs going up by around 35% and container costs increasing from $500 to $2,000, with 40%-50% shipping firms re-routing their ships around the Cape of Good Hope, Navy Chief said.

Several shipping companies have suspended their operations in the Red Sea following the Houthi attacks, which have forced mariners to change course and take the longer route around the southern tip of Africa.

These rising costs will be passed on to the consumer, he said.

“Disorder at sea will disrupt trade. Our goal is to ensure that disorder does not prevail…This is even more significant as India eyes becoming the third largest economy in the world,” Kumar said.

The navy chief said the Houthis were using basic drones to target commercial shipping.

One of the drones recovered by the navy was made of plywood, powered by a four-stroke moped engine, had basic electronics and a range of 1,600 km, he said. The Houthis usually launch two drones, one equipped with a camera that locates the target vessel and the other a kamikaze drone carrying 40 kgs of explosives.

“In the ongoing endeavour since December 2023, Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) of the Indian Navy at Gurugram, has played a transformative role as a principal hub for enabling information exchange in the Indian Ocean region. In addition, coordinated missions with IAF and national agencies have highlighted the synergy and interoperability of the services,” the India Navy statement said.

“The calibrated response, ingenuity and unflinching resolve displayed by the Indian Navy during the ongoing maritime security operations under the aegis of ‘Op Sankalp’ has garnered international acclaim,” it added.

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