Indian Navy thwarts hijacking attempt in Arabian Sea

Marine Commandos evacuate all members on board the Lila Norfolk after issuing a forceful warning to the hijacking pirates; INS Chennai has been engaged to render support

January 05, 2024 12:06 pm | Updated 09:24 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Indian Navy responds to a distress call by a Liberian-flagged bulk carrier m.v. Lila Norfolk in the North Arabian Sea. Photo: Special Arrangement

Indian Navy responds to a distress call by a Liberian-flagged bulk carrier m.v. Lila Norfolk in the North Arabian Sea. Photo: Special Arrangement

In a positive end to a hijacking attempt in the North Arabian Sea, Indian Navy MARCOS (Marine Commandos) on Friday evening secured and safely evacuated all 21 crew members, including 15 Indians, from the merchant vessel Lila Norfolk after it came under a hijacking attempt.

“Sanitisation by MARCOS has confirmed absence of the hijackers personnel. The attempt of hijacking by the pirates was probably abandoned with the forceful warning by the Indian Navy’s Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) and interception by Indian Naval warship,” the Navy said in a statement. “INS Chennai is in the vicinity of MV and rendering support to restore the power generation and propulsion, and commence her voyage to next port of call.”

The bulk carrier Lila Norfolk had sent a message on UKMTO (U.K. Maritime Trade Operations) portal on Thursday evening, when it was 460nm off the coast from Eyl, Somalia, indicating boarding by approximately five to six unknown armed persons, the Navy said. Responding to the call, the Indian Navy diverted destroyer INS Chennai which was on anti-piracy patrol in the region while an MPA overflew the vessel in the morning and established contact, ascertaining the safety of the crew.

“INS Chennai diverted from her anti-piracy patrol intercepted the vessel at 1515h on Friday. MV was kept under continuous surveillance using MPA, Predator MQ-9B and integral helicopters,” the Navy said in a statement. “Indian Navy Marine Commandos present onboard the Mission Deployed warship boarded the vessel and have commenced the sanitisation.”

The MPA kept monitoring the vessel’s movement while INS Chennai was enroute. The ship’s Master reported that the crew were able to successfully gather in the citadel, the strong room inside a ship which also has communications, officials said. The vessel was on route to Khalifa Bin Salman Port, Bahrain from a port in Brazil at the time of the incident.

The vessel was intercepted by INS Chennai at 1515h on Friday and MARCOS boarded the vessel and carried out complete sanitisation after which the crew was evacuated from the citadel.

This is the second hijacking incident in the region which has completely gone down from the peak a decade back. Last month, Malta-flagged tanker m.v. Ruen, with 18 crew onboard, was hijacked by Somali pirates approximately 700 miles from the Indian coast and the vessel is currently off the Somali coast.

In addition, there have been a series of attacks on merchant ships by Houthi rebels in Yemen in the Red Sea as well as the Arabian Sea, including a few instances where Indian-crewed vessels headed to India were targeted recently, m.v. Chem Pluto and m.v. Sai Baba.

In response to these incidents, the Indian Navy has substantially enhanced maritime surveillance efforts in the Central and North Arabian Sea and augmented force levels.

Task Groups comprising destroyers and frigates have been deployed to undertake maritime security operations and render assistance to merchant vessels in case of any incident and aerial surveillance by long-range maritime patrol aircraft and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles has been enhanced to have a complete maritime domain awareness. In the 10 days, Naval task groups deployed in the area have investigated large number of fishing vessels and boarded vessels of interest, the Navy said.

The Navy’s Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) and Information Fusion Centre for Indian Ocean Region (IFC IOR) are also closely monitoring white shipping, especially the Indian-flagged merchant vessels plying in the area, the Navy said, adding that it is also coordinating with Coast Guard to maintain enhanced surveillance within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

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