India bans vessels on hijack-prone stretch

K.A. Martin

KOCHI: India has banned all motorised vessels from sailing south or west of a line between Salalah and the Maldives in a bid to stem the tide of pirate attacks. The latest incident was the hijacking by Somali pirates of at least seven vessels with about a 100 Indian crew on board.

Tuesday's ban order would be among the several measures India was taking to prevent further pirate attacks, said Nautical Adviser to the Government of India M.M. Saggi on Wednesday. He was speaking to The Hindu after inaugurating the National Maritime Day celebrations here.

“We have represented our case with the International Maritime Organisation and the United Nations and are coordinating action with other navies to protect the seafarers,” Mr. Saggi said.

All motorised vessels were being banned in the danger-prone area in view of the pirates hijacking vessels and using them to sail into outer seas to attack large vessels, he said.

The order from the Directorate-General of Shipping clearly stated that hijacked dhows may be used by the pirates to carry out attacks on merchant vessels. The order said, ‘‘All sailing vessels registered in India are prohibited with immediate effect from plying south or west of the line joining Salalah and Male.”

The Directorate-General also advised registrars of sailing vessels to incorporate the restrictions for operating in the trading area in the certificate of inspection issued under Section 421 of the Merchant Shipping Act. The order also warned of penal action in case of a violation.

The Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean south of the Maldives have become the greatest challenges to Indian merchant vessels.

Mr. Saggi said that ‘James Park,' a U.K. flag vessel, with six Indians on board was hijacked on December 28. ‘Asian Glory,' another U.K. flag vessel, was hijacked on January 1 this year with five Indians on board. ‘Iceberg,' a Panama flag vessel, was hijacked on Tuesday with six Indians on board.

In the latest bout of pirate attacks, seven Indian MSVs (motorised sailing vessels) have been hijacked — four of them on March 28.