Tanker with Indian crew hit by drone in Red Sea

All crew members are safe and the vessel is heading towards India

December 24, 2023 12:51 pm | Updated 11:07 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Indian Coast Guard ship Vikram escorting ‘ MV Chem Pluto’ in Arabian Sea.

Indian Coast Guard ship Vikram escorting ‘ MV Chem Pluto’ in Arabian Sea. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A Gabon-flagged crude oil tanker m.v Sai Baba with Indian crew heading to India reported that it was hit by a one-way attack drone though no injuries were reported in the Southern Red Sea, according to the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).

“At approximately 8 p.m. (Sanaa time), U.S. Naval Forces Central Command received reports from two ships in the Southern Red Sea that they were under attack,” CENTCOM said on social media platform X on Sunday. The USS Laboon responded to the distress calls from these attacks, it stated.

These attacks represent the 14th and 15th attacks on commercial shipping by Houthi militants since October 17. The other vessel is m.v BLAAMANEN, a Norwegian-flagged, owned, and operated chemical/oil tanker which reported a near-miss of a Houthi one-way attack drone with no injuries or damage reported.

  

The vessel is a Gabon-flagged vessel and the classification society for registration is through the Indian Registrar of Shipping, defence sources said. The tanker is managed by an Indian company and has an all-Indian crew, it has been learnt. “All crew are safe and the vessel is heading towards India,” a source in the know stated.

Also on Saturday, two Houthi anti-ship ballistic missiles were fired into international shipping lanes in the Southern Red Sea from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, CENTOM said, adding no ships reported being impacted by the ballistic missiles. Between 3 and 8 p.m. (Sanaa time), the USS Laboon was patrolling in the Southern Red Sea as part of Operation Prosperity Guardian (OPG) and shot down four unmanned aerial drones originating from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen that were inbound to the USS Laboon, it added.

These attacks represent a significant scale up in attacks on commercial shipping from Houthi-held areas of Yemen since the launch of Israeli action in Gaza.

New security initiative

In response to escalation in missile and drone attacks originating from Houthi-held areas in Yemen which threatens the free flow of commerce in the Red Sea, on December 18, U.S. Secretary of Defence Lloyd J. Austin announced the establishment of Operation Prosperity Guardian, an “important new multinational security initiative under the umbrella of the combined maritime forces and the leadership of its Task Force 153, which focuses on security in the Red Sea.”

On Saturday morning, Liberian-flagged m.v Chem Pluto was hit by a suspected drone just outside the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and is now heading to Mumbai escorted by Indian Coast Guard ship Vikram. Chem Pluto, operated by a Dutch company, has a 21-member crew, 20 Indians and one Vietnamese, and was located around 217 nautical miles from the Porbandar coast in the Arabian Sea when it was hit.

Chem Pluto is scheduled to reach Mumbai on Monday. Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) specialist will be embarking m.v Chem Pluto on arrival at Mumbai to sanitise the vessel and undertake further investigation, the Navy said in a statement.

Giving the timeline of the incident, the Navy said Chem Pluto was reported on fire after being hit by a projectile around 0745 h on Saturday “likely to be a missile or drone” and Naval maritime patrol aircraft over flew the vessel at 1315h and established contact with the crew. “INS Mormugao established communication with Chem Pluto at 1930h to ascertain if any assistance was required. ICGS Vikram, also present at scene, was directed to escort the vessel to Mumbai,” the Navy added. 

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