Amidst the increasing tensions between New Delhi and Beijing over Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama’s ongoing visit to the border state of Arunachal Pradesh, the navies of the two countries displayed unusual solidarity at high seas in responding jointly to a piracy attack on a foreign merchant ship in the Gulf of Aden.
According to navy spokesperson, Captain DK Sharma, Indian naval ships INS Mumbai, INS Tarkash, INS Trishul and INS Aditya were proceeding on deployment to the Mediterranean and passing through the Gulf of Aden when they received a distress call from a foreign merchant vessel, MV OS 35. The Tuvalu registered ship had left Kelang in Malaysia and was destined for Aden port when it was attacked and boarded by pirates in the Gulf of Aden late Saturday night. The 19-strong Filipino crew had locked themselves in a strong room on board, as per standard operating procedure for responding to a piracy incident.
The Indian navy ships responded to the call and rapidly closed on to the a 178-metre long bulk carrier by the early hours of Sunday. They established contact with the Captain of the merchant vessel, while an Indian Navy helicopter undertook aerial reconnaissance of the merchant vessel at night, and at sunrise. The helicopter sanitised the upper decks of the merchant ship and tried to ascertain the location of pirates, if they were still on board.
Emboldened by Indian Navy’s helicopter cover, and on receiving the ‘all clear signal’ that no pirates were visible on the upper decks, some crew members gradually emerged from the strong room and carried out a search of the ship and ascertained that the pirates had fled the ship at night.
Subsequently, while the Indian naval helicopter provided the air cover, PLA Navy ship Yulin sent a team of 18 Chinese naval personnel to physically sanitise the merchant ship. Indian Navy provided the communication link for this coordinated action by the two sides. The two navies, sources said, thanked each other for excellent coordination in executing an impromptu task at high seas. The Captain of the merchant vessel profusely thanked the Indian naval ships for their response and for providing air cover. All the crew members on the ship were safe at the end of the joint action.
Since 2008, India has deployed at least one naval ship in the piracy-infested Gulf of Aden through which a major chunk of the global commerce passes. The naval ship escorts the merchant ships through the 490-nautical mile long Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC).